High School Books
This time of year, lots of folks are consuming and buying and getting and eating and having. Naturally, I spent my Thanksgiving weekend sorting and throwing things away.
However, I'm no angel of anti-consumerism. I found a killer deal on sneakers on Black Friday at my local sporting goods store. Opportunity like that comes once a year---although with sneakers, it's more like four times a year. My new sneakers have neon pink laces. Sweeeet.
During my Thanksgiving throw-away, I decided to weed through the shelves of my book garden. I have mostly literature and theatre history books on my shelves, and many of them make me smile. Yes, I find delight in books, but the shelves were way too cluttered. As I pulling out the literary dandelions to donate to the local library book sale, I realized that I had a bunch of books I had first read in high school.
This led me to thinking about why I kept these books and not others. I don't own a copy of The Scarlet Letter, A Separate Peace, The Hobbit, or A Farewell to Arms, but I still have Gatsby. I have a lot of books by authors I discovered in college and beyond college. I even still have a book of Sam Shepard plays which weren't high school reading but his plays were so fucking cool when I read them at age thirteen.
As I was compiling my list of books from high school on my shelf, I realized that I have read them all again in my adulthood. My relationship with many of them has changed through the years.
If you only read these books as a teenager and are now an adult, check them out again. They might be a whole new read for your mature eyes. Or not.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I remember back in Mrs. B's English class, we studied the symbolism of the eyes and the wasteland imagery and use of a narrator. Blah, blah, blah. I picked this book up again in my late twenties, then in my early thirties, and again and again. It's not just a big flapper party. It's about a man who asks too much of the woman he loves. I remember when I first read the book, I hated Daisy Buchanan. She was shallow and destructive. She wasn't worthy of Gatsby's love. The last time I read it, she became worthy of my love. When Gatsby asks to her renounce everything and live with him, she can't. She's her own person with her own dreams. Why should she?
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Since high school, I have read other Dostoevsky books. The scope of his vision leaves me in awe. He wants to put a universe into a novel---he comes damn close in Brothers K. This is not a book for children, but I read when I was a child. I read it again, and I felt like a child. I read it now to feel like a child again.
Hamlet by William Shakespeare
I reached the age of Hamlet and I passed the age of Hamlet. I have seen Hamlet performed by as many actors as stars in the sky. I have whole bits of the play in my memory because I used to listen to Kenneth Branagh's radio production of it (Judi Dench played Gertrude) on my walkman as I walked around New York City. Lear has more verve, some of the comedies have a lot more lightness, but I always go back to Hamlet. He wasn't my first Shakespeare play (R+J was), but he was my first Shakespeare love.
The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
Why the hell do I have this play still on my shelf? It's borderline unwatchable. Those stupid fuckin glass animals and the girl with the limp and the dominating mother. But oh Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
The divine Miss J. When I read it in high school, I loved that the smart girl gets the guy and found the supporting characters annoying. I read it still because those supporting characters have all the best lines. Her ear is stunning. Her prose is clean and precise. She doesn't have a lot of fat in her work. Her world might seem prim and proper and pretty, but she cuts it with a sharp blade.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
I loved Mr. Rochester when I was in high school. He was just so tortured, and in the end, he's blind. I have grown up (sorta) and have realized that a guy who has an insane wife in the attic might not be a wise relationship choice. I've worked a lot of crappy jobs, so when Jane declares that she might be poor, but she has a soul. I'm right there with her. Even though the revelation of the inheritance from the rich uncle feels like Bronte really wanting Jane to land on top, I still think Jane's desire for equality and dignity is beautifully written.
Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man and The Dubliners by James Joyce
What kind of high school did I go to? They had us read not one, but two James Joyce books. We were good Catholic girls, we were. But did they have any idea what kind of lightning bolts they were handing us. Actually, we girls had no idea what kind of lightning bolts they were handing us. Maybe that's the point.
I actually found these two books during my weeding out, and declared holy shit, I still have these??? I then placed the two books next to my copy of Ulysses which sits on my shelf like a trophy. I read that fucker. Of course, Joyce being Joyce, he had to go and write Finnegans Wake. Okay, I can't be too proud. Guess I gotta read that one too.