This week, I decided to pick up Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. It has been sitting in my pile of unread classics since I first tried to read it as a teenager many years ago. I picked it up with a sense of dread, remembering it is a real slog, difficult to understand and one of the few books I’ve started but not finished. I thought, let’s just get this one off the TBR.
But then, I started reading it and, nearly 100 pages in I’m really enjoying it. I’m finding the satire amusing, following the story easily and actually want to know what’s going to happen next. This got me thinking, why did I find this so hard to read when I was a teenager and I realised I just tried to read it too young. As a teenager the writing style and subtle nods to our society would be lost on me. And this got me thinking, what other books did I try to read too young that I should pick up again?
The most obvious books that came to mind as soon as this topic popped into my head are a box set of Virago books I was given many years ago which included books like the The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton and Their eyes were watching God by Zora Neale Hurston among others (which actually make up the main header of my blog!). I know that I did get something out of some of these books at the time, but hearing people talk about them now I realise how much I would have missed as a young reader. I didn’t know their importance and certainly didn’t appreciate writing styles in the same way that I hope I do now. So this set has been added onto the re-read pile.
Thinking about writing style, I think I would get a lot more out of reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy by JRR Tolkien now. I loved it at the time, but I think I would appreciate the style and the world building more now. However I also think I would be more critical too – when I re-read The Hobbit before the first film came out, I was really affected by the fact that there are NO female characters. Something I hadn’t even considered as young person.
Another one that popped into my mind was The Go Between by L.P Hartley. I did enjoy this book, I remember doing so, but I also feel that I rushed it and didn’t really take the time to feel for the characters or understand what it all really meant.
I don’t have a lot of the books I read in those teenage years any more, one house can only hold so many books and I try to be strict about my collection so I’m sure there are loads more I could add to this post. The idea has really fascinated me though, and certainly adds another reason to re-read in my eyes. Having always read a lot, I find that I can’t remember details of the storyline’s of a lot of the books I read, I often retain more of a feeling about the book.This upsets me sometimes, as I know that I’ve read and enjoyed so many books, and especially with some of the classics I read in my younger years I would like to find a greater appreciation for them now.
As I’ve said before, I think a lot can be got out of re-reading, but after thinking through this I believe that even more. All of it may not be positive, perhaps reading something again will show the flaws you once didn’t see, or show how much you’ve changed as a person (in a good way!). But it’s something I’m going to aim to take up, where possible, starting with the books I’ve mentioned on this post. I’m going to make it my aim to re-read these books sooner rather than later.
I’d be really interested to know if anyone else has experienced this feeling of knowing you read a book too young or as I like to think of it, were you ahead of your own time?