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Day 3: A Book You Understand Differently with Age

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Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship (emmadeploresgoodreadscensorship) | 103 comments Mod
What is a book you've read at different times in your life, only to see your opinion change dramatically based on life experience?

The one that comes to mind for me is Jane Eyre. I first read it at about 14, and identified hard with Jane through Part 1 (childhood) and Part 2 (burgeoning romance). But then I felt that Part 3 was just some plot tumor that took over the rest of the book.

Fast forward to my late 20s, I read the book again and had a totally different take. Now Jane's woeful childhood teetered on the edge of being over-the-top, and her initial relationship with Mr. Rochester was defined by downright creepy power dynamics. Part 3 now makes the book to me: this is where Jane establishes her financial and emotional independence, growing into a position from which she can actually make adult decisions about her future. I still like the book a lot, but basically all my opinions about it have changed!


message 2: by Melindam (new)

Melindam | 162 comments Emma, I had a similar experience with Jane Eyre. :)

PLUS, each and every one of Jane Austen's books.
I read them in my teens first and from then on I re-read them almost year and while the changes may not be dramatic, but they were gradual. On one hand, there were my life experience, on the other, it's the books themselves: with Jane Austen, you are always discovering new layers and meanings.

But the best way I can demonstrate is through Sense and Sensibility and using a quote by Ian P. Watt.

"Many of Jane Austen's admirers, it is true, read her novels as a means of escape into a cozy sort of Old English nirvana, but they find this escape in her pages only because, as E. M. Foster has written, the devout "Janeite" "like all regular churchgoers ... scarcely notices what is being said."
(...)
Jane Austen's stage, is narrow; it is also devoted to entertainment; and we may fail to recognize the great issues of life in their humorous garb unless we are prepared to view the comic mode as an entertainment which can be both intellectually and morally serious.
(...)
Today we are less accustomed to look for universal norms in what we read ... partly because we tend to see life, and therefore literature, mainly in terms of individual experience. Jane Austen's own standards were, like those of her age, much more absolute; and as a novelist she presented all her characters in terms of of their relations to a fixed code of values. "


When I first read it at 15, I was utterly shocked by the ending. I read it only according to "the terms of individual" experience as a romantic novel, craving for a perfectly happy ending!

A few years later -when my then-BF did a (kinda) Willoughby on me- I appreciated the ending a bit more, but it still left me unconvinced about the book's obvious merits.

((Of course there was the film of 1995 with Alan Rickman, The Divine, which just so totally distorted my "objective" views of Colonel Brandon's character that I have not recovered ever since!))

As time went by and I found myself with different feelings/thoughts/ideas at different times. And now I "know" or at least think that the novel is not about romance -even though on the surface there is little else to see-, it is about EQUILIBRIUM, about self-knowledge & acceptance. Until the heroines don't go through their "baptism of fire" that is self-knowledge, they don't gain the right of passage to a happy ending (This is the same for Elizabeth, Emma, Catherine and even for Anne, though maybe not for Fanny and Elinor). Admittedly, the "happy ending" is rather questionable here with our 21st century-sensibilities, but let's call it that anyway.

Apologies for being too verbose, but once I get on my Jane Austen train of thought, it's hard to derail me. 😊


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Ange H | 47 comments Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship wrote: "...some plot tumor that took over the rest of the book...."

Emma, probably the best description of that concept I've ever read. 😂😂 From now on that term will pop into my head often as I'm reading!

Melindam wrote: "Emma, I had a similar experience with Jane Eyre. :)

PLUS, each and every one of Jane Austen's books.
I read them in my teens first and from then on I re-read them almost yearly..."


As usual, I agree with Melinda! I did my last re-read of all the Austen books last year, and it really struck me for the first time that all of the heroines were basically children. So many of the things they did or choices they made took on a different aspect to me with that knowledge. I had sort of a motherly tolerance and affection for them that was definitely not my feeling when I was their age or younger.


Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship (emmadeploresgoodreadscensorship) | 103 comments Mod
Jane Austen is such a good one to talk about here too! I've been doing some Austen re-reads lately after a very long time (haven't yet made it to S&S though it's sitting on my physical TBR!), and am finding that I see many things differently.

In particular, the younger sisters in P&P. Lydia I suspect would have been the heroine if the book was written today: modern authors and readers seem to love the naive young woman who breaks the rules of her society and throws everything away for love, even (especially) if she's somehow deceived in the man she chooses. Of course, because Lydia is an astutely drawn secondary character rather than the generically inoffensive protagonist of some forgettable modern novel, she behaves like a real self-centered 16-year-old outside of just her pursuit of men. The bit where she meets Jane and Elizabeth at an inn and announces she's treating them to lunch, except they have to pay because she just spent all her money on a bonnet she doesn't even like that much, was hilarious.

Then there's Mary. Poor Mary! She's the one unattractive one in a family of five sisters, which is bad enough. Also, she's the only person in the family that nobody seems to care about that much. Jane/Elizabeth and Lydia/Kitty are each joined at the hip with each other and don't really need other sisters, each of the parents has their own favorite (definitely not Mary), and she doesn't have much in common with the neighbors the family hangs out with. This time through I actually wondered if she might be on the autism spectrum. There's this weird scene in the middle of Lydia's disgrace where Mary comes up to Elizabeth and goes "Let us pour the balm of sisterly consolation on each other's bosoms" and Elizabeth is so weirded out she doesn't say anything. Understanding social norms and expectations clearly doesn't come naturally to Mary and nobody bothers to gently correct her, apparently instead just silently wishing she'll go away.


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Melindam | 162 comments Emma, there's a great collection of essays on JA & her works called "A truth universally acknowledged...." 1 author wrote an essay on Mary as one of the 1st Nerds of fiction. :)


message 6: by Melindam (new)

Melindam | 162 comments Also the way I see Mr Bennet underwent som big changes. My younger self thought him hilarious and an indulgent, intelligent dad, while I always treated Mrs B with abhorrence & contempt.
The way I see them now (literary studies and some knowledge of the universal norms back then): completely different. Now I think that Mr Bennet is much more to blame for the state of affairs in the family than his wife, who, with her limited chancesand understanding actually did what she could, even if there were negative consequences. BUT Mr Bennet DID NOT do a single thing. I find it quite appalling now.


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Gogol | 113 comments I would definitely say Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy and since we are speaking of Jane Austen, her Persuasion. I first read both books while in high school, I had to read Resurrection in French class and since I was born in the aftermath of a revolution in my country which was particularly devastating and traumatic to both sides of my family to the extent that we are still dealing with the results 40 years later, I greatly identified with the pre-revolution “anciennes régimes” of both France and Russia. So imagine my utter disbelief and dare I say it disgust for the main character of his book Nekhlyudov and for his subsequent actions. I do not wish to spoil the book for those of you who haven’t read it, suffice to say I thought all of his actions were unbelievable and a figment of an idealist writer’s imagination. To say I hated it is putting it mildly. I had such a flat, black and white mentality which is, I suppose prevalent during one’s youth. Many years later I saw the movie adaptation the Russians had made, with subtitles, and I was captivated. I reread the book again, and I think I wept through most of it. Because of all I was seeing in daily life. The book ceased to be about pre-revolution Russia, I stopped seeing it in that light. The realities of our daily lives on this planet can’t be neatly categorised like that. Yes the premise of the book is a bit idealistic but I have come to know individuals like that. But the experience of reading the book in two different eras of my life is something that I shall always cherish. It left a lasting impression both times. And changed me in subtle ways.

Persuasion is a book that I couldn’t appreciate early on either. I could not forgive captain Wentworth for what I felt was his callous behaviour, I also have a remarkably materialistic frivolous streak and later on in the book I couldn’t understand why Anne’s scruples would get in the way of a title and fortune and riches and a social position. Also I’m pretty vindictive, so during my first reading I felt she lost the opportunity of a proper smack down of Wentworth for his earlier transgressions with the sisters.

It was much, much later in my life where I understood nothing could make up for Mr. Elliot’s manipulative, cowardly, petit, inconsistent, selfish, cold ... (I could go on but I suppose you get the gist) disposition. Unless perhaps a dukedom and a vault full of tiaras and a few palaces ,.... lol. No, not even then! And I am surprising myself by saying this let me tell you! I also understood, why we allow people we love to act out on their hurt and anger, and I came to appreciate what it meant that Wentworth fell in love with Anne for a second time. I came to have a new respect for Anne’s fortitude and consistency. So that’s all.


message 8: by Mark (new)

Mark (kilimaro) | 20 comments Jane Austen seems to be a common answer here. For me it's more about "I had to read this book in 12th grade when I hated my English teacher" vs. "I chose to re-read this book as an adult and give it a fair chance" than anything, so it's not like I had some idea of the characters when I was younger and now I understand them differently. It's more like... I hated everything about it when I was younger and now I appreciate the book for its own merits.

With P&P in particular, I read this a few years ago - early 30s - and on pretty much the first page I had this dawning, "Wait a minute, this book is FUNNY? Why did the English teacher never tell us?" That was when Mr. Bennet is just obviously blowing off his wife and kind of sharing a little joke about it with Elizabeth. Maybe the teacher did try to tell us 20 years ago and I wasn't listening, I don't know. But it's not the only book where, freed from having to regurgitate things in boring curriculum-approved ways, I appreciated it more.

One thing I did recall from school reading is that Mr. Darcy was famously a jerk, and he is, of course. The re-read surprise for me was more of a watch surprise: I watched the Colin Firth-as-Darcy version of P&P with my GF a couple of years ago and in the second half of the story it was immediately apparent he's different. Of course he was! In the first half he was in the environment where he was uncomfortable and in the second half he's at his estate where everything is familiar and he doesn't have to do all of the performative BS of the balls and everything else. Being among the set of people who generally don't enjoy social interaction, especially with large groups of fake people, I felt that.


message 9: by Melindam (new)

Melindam | 162 comments I haven't read this book by Leo Tolstoy, but you made me very curious, Gogol.


message 10: by Melindam (last edited May 22, 2020 08:32AM) (new)

Melindam | 162 comments Mark, while I think I was quite appreciative of the literary stuff we were made to read in high school, there were a few hate-on-sight books for me as well. One was Notre-Dame de Paris by Hugo. I hated it with a vengeance. Maybe I should give it a try again.

Very much have the same situ with Henry James. I should have read The Ambassadors for a University course and I was tearing my hair out with frustration: OMG, does this guy ever get to a point? I just couldn't make myself finish it.

I recently re-read The Golden Bowl and while I am still not mad about it, at least James' style did not irritate the hell out of me this time.


Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship (emmadeploresgoodreadscensorship) | 103 comments Mod
I had the same experience with Austen re: not realizing it was funny till I was an adult! Never asked to read them in school, but I did read a few as a kid for bragging rights and didn't much appreciate them.

Also agree with the changing views of Mr. Bennet. The younger-self reaction to him is that he's cool because he's sarcastic and our heroine is his favorite kid. The older-self reaction is that he's made kind of a mess of his family. He can't be bothered to provide any discipline, and the way he amuses himself by making cutting remarks (that she doesn't seem to understand) to the wife who clearly loves him more than he loves her is sad, even though it's true that Mrs. Bennet is silly.

I've also never heard of Resurrection but it sounds interesting!


message 12: by Gogol (new)

Gogol | 113 comments Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship wrote: "I had the same experience with Austen re: not realizing it was funny till I was an adult! Never asked to read them in school, but I did read a few as a kid for bragging rights and didn't much appre..."

Exactly! I mean, at first we are told Mrs. Bennet is silly but then we’re shown that Mr. Bennet is no less short sighted than her. It’s a testament to Jane Austen’s sheer brilliance to have layered all these social and psychological nuance so delicately in her books. Also, I think it has something to do with one’s reading skills as well. At first one takes everything so literally, so flatly, it’s later when the skills develop that one learns to notice beneath the surface of the words themselves.


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Gogol | 113 comments Melindam wrote: "I haven't read this book by Leo Tolstoy, but you made me very curious, Gogol."

I studied French with this incredibly interesting lady, who studied art in Sorbonne and had spent most of her youth in Paris. But it was post war in our country, and everything was scarce, most of all foreign books. So we either had to get photocopies, which were extortionately expensive at the time, because of paper costs, or choose whatever was available from her massive library, even though it wasn’t very age-appropriate for young teenagers. So I read a lot of books that, in hindsight, were a bit too much for me at the time. But reading those books and watching her choice in films and documentaries had a two pronged effect on me, at first I hated most of it, but I had no other choice, then, they made me think and they made me curious too! So that later when I had more choice, I’d choose to read them of my own volition. Then I read the books properly.


message 14: by Melindam (new)

Melindam | 162 comments I am sorry you had/have to go through such harsh times, but the fact that you met this lady and had access to her books and was influenced so much by them is amazing!


message 15: by Gogol (last edited May 22, 2020 10:31AM) (new)

Gogol | 113 comments Melindam wrote: "I am sorry you had/have to go through such harsh times, but the fact that you met this lady and had access to her books and was influenced so much by them is amazing!"

No, no please don’t be, we had a lot of fun, and experienced so much. And we didn’t even know we were deprived of anything. But I don’t even think we were deprived of much! And also I believe we were so lucky, to have had access to all those people. All those libraries, films, music archives, but most importantly the people themselves. I also think difficult times are what make people. So even the difficulties we experienced were good for us! I hope I won’t be tested more for what I just put into words. But for example the time we are going through right now is pretty difficult as far as I’m concerned, I mean the day to day reality, but from all that I have experienced, I know, that I’d be better for it at the end of it. I’m sorry I didn’t mean to sound as if there was anything to be sorry about. I was so, so, very lucky. I was just trying to explain why I first read Resurrection, when I did.


message 16: by Melindam (new)

Melindam | 162 comments It's ok and it's clear that your life experience made reading the book so much richer


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (susannag) | 43 comments P&P excels in comedic secondary characters, doesn't it? Tops for me are Mrs. Bennett (the silliest mother in fiction), and the odious Mr. Collins.

I think for me the book in this category is Romeo and Juliet. When I read it as a teenager (it was my first Shakespeare, as I think it is for a lot of people), what stood out to me was the poor plot construction. (It didn't help that it was taught by a notorious book killer.)

When I had it taught to me again at 40 (by a gifted Shakespearean, this time), what stands out is its magnificent language.


Two Envelopes And A Phone I don't do a lot of re-reading, so this is a tricky question today.

I do know that The Infatuations by Javier Marias is one of my favourite books. I know that I would not have had that reaction decades ago, as a much younger person; I had to go through certain things and learn how life really is, how simple it can be, in certain situations. I think many people would read The Infatuations, and 'meh' it, or 'what's the big deal, where is there a story that progresses'...but as a Crime novel enthusiast who likes complicated plots, it has been interesting, as I have aged, to realize that some books that feature crimes at the heart of their premise are better because they are not complicated. They are just about things that happen and how you deal, if you can.


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (susannag) | 43 comments If the question is rereads? Excluding books read as a child (in which case it's either the Oz books or Little House on the Prairie), hands down Lord of the Rings.

If it's "most pages" it's Colleen McCullough. (Her Masters of Rome series is fantastic, and the shortest of the seven volumes is a pretty long book.)


Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship (emmadeploresgoodreadscensorship) | 103 comments Mod
Susanna - Censored by GoodReads wrote: "I think for me the book in this category is Romeo and Juliet. When I read it as a teenager (it was my first Shakespeare, as I think it is for a lot of people), what stood out to me was the poor plot construction. (It didn't help that it was taught by a notorious book killer.)

When I had it taught to me again at 40 (by a gifted Shakespearean, this time), what stands out is its magnificent language."


I haven't read Romeo and Juliet as an adult (I remain suspicious of the idea of reading plays), but it's still a story on which my views have changed over time. As a teenager, it's a tragic romance! As an adult, it's a story of a couple of really stupid kids who can't be bothered to gather all the relevant information before killing themselves in despair.


message 21: by Melindam (new)

Melindam | 162 comments :D


message 22: by Jen (new)

Jen  (jennsps) | 10 comments Every few years I re-read Pride and Prejudice by Austen and The Stand by King. Every time I pick up on something I missed before and I fall more deeply in love with both books, after I pick my jaw up off the floor, amazed at my own stupidity at missing what I had missed the umpteen million times before that I read them.


message 23: by Mahoghani 23 (new)

Mahoghani 23 (mahoghani23) Nancy Drew books. I loved the positive interaction but reading it at my age now, it doesn't appeal to me.


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Chaitra (chaitra_ganesh) | 6 comments Melindam wrote: "((Of course there was the film of 1995 with Alan Rickman, The Divine, which just so totally distorted my "objective" views of Colonel Brandon's character that I have not recovered ever since!))"

Yes! I watched the movie first. I had no idea what Marianne saw in Willoughby - I mean the actor is fine, he'd probably be great as a romantic guy in a different movie, but Rickman is Rickman.

The book I've revised my opinion of, and not in a good way, is Little Women. I used to love this book! When I tried to read it after a gap of a few years, I could not get over how irritating I found everyone and everything.


Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship (emmadeploresgoodreadscensorship) | 103 comments Mod
Oh I have fond memories of Little Women... why is it so bad? I can imagine the characters being a little over-the-top from a mature perspective (Beth was always a little too angelic), is that it?


Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all) | 76 comments So many books I see so differently now! One that really struck me just lately was Patricia Wentworth's The Girl in the Cellar; when I read it in my 20s I really enjoyed it, while this time I was sharply aware of how poorly written and repetitive it is. (10 years of tutoring Eng Lit at the college level will do that.)

Another huge difference was Walden. At 15, I thought he had it all together and knew where it was. At 30, I found him tiresome. In my 50s (and with Internet access), I did a quick websearch and found out just how unreliable he was as a narrator--aside from annoying me enough to be thrown across the room. Twice.


Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all) | 76 comments Mahoghani 23 wrote: "Nancy Drew books. I loved the positive interaction but reading it at my age now, it doesn't appeal to me."

I read them now if I want to howl with laughter--in all the wrong places! But that's just me. As my late beloved aunt once said, "I bid fair to become a nasty old woman. Not an "unpleasant elderly person", just a nasty old woman."


message 28: by Jen (new)

Jen  (jennsps) | 10 comments When I was a moody pre-teen, Kurt Vonnegut SPOKE to me. When I try to read him now, I just don’t get it. He’s so negative! (I understand why, he was there for the bombing of Dresden. That would turn anyone a bit negative I would suspect.) But that level of hopelessness is not me now.


Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship (emmadeploresgoodreadscensorship) | 103 comments Mod
Jen wrote: "When I was a moody pre-teen, Kurt Vonnegut SPOKE to me. When I try to read him now, I just don’t get it. He’s so negative! (I understand why, he was there for the bombing of Dresden. That would tur..."

That's a good one, Jen! Although the stereotypes are that people become less innocent/more cynical as they get older (and I think that's generally true), I've had a pretty similar experience with preferring darker reading when I was younger. Maybe precisely because I had less exposure to the world and so it had little effect on me.


message 30: by Molly (new)

Molly Ison | 9 comments It turns out that I missed huge parts of A Clockwork Orange when I read it before knowing any Russian!


message 31: by Molly (new)

Molly Ison | 9 comments Mahoghani 23 wrote: "Nancy Drew books. I loved the positive interaction but reading it at my age now, it doesn't appeal to me."

When I was maybe 11 or 12, my Fundagelical Christian parents were extremely against me reading Goosebumps books. I thought at the time that I'd go back and read them all as soon as my parents couldn't control everything I did anymore. That only lasted for about half a book.


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