A co-worker of mine recently told me and several others that he re-reads The Great Gatsby every year – sometimes more than once! We were stunned. Isn’t that the book I was forced to read back in high school and found boring beyond all measure? I told him so and that the only thing I could remember was something about a billboard with eyes on it.
When we asked him why he re-reads such a boring book every year, he told us that he did so because it is beautifully written. Really? Then it hit me, of course. That was then. This is now. My tastes have changed since high school (Thank God). Maybe I should give the book another shot. After all, I re-read To Kill a Mockingbird last fall and found it richer and more beautiful than when I first read it in high school – and I even liked it back then. Maybe I should give F. Scott Fitzgerald another shot.
I did. Consider this paragraph, fourteen pages in:
For a moment the last sunshine fell with romantic affection upon her glowing face; her voice compelled me forward breathlessly as I listened — then the glow faded, each light deserting her with lingering regret, like children leaving a pleasant street at dusk.
Amazingly lyrical. And that’s only one example. My co-worker friend told me that when he read that paragraph to his engineer spouse, she said, “So, the sun went down.” I suppose it’s not for everyone, but I’m a mere 22 pages in, now, but looking forward to reading the rest of it. In fact, I can’t wait.
All of this makes me wonder if it really did that much good to force me to read the classics I read back then when I simply did not have the life experience or awareness of beauty to yet appreciate them. Who knows? Maybe it was the reading of those books that awakened something in me to begin with. Either way, now I’m wondering what else I need to go back and read again. After all, I seem to remember my judgment not being at its peak when I was a teenager. How about you?
What classics were you forced to read in high school, but have gone back and read, only to find them much more engaging than you remembered? What books do you find powerful and beautiful today?