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Making up for the mistakes of my youth.

August 11, 2011
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I am a young reader. Not only in the sense that I am only just going to be gliding into the absolute mid-twenties in the next six months, but also in the sense that I only fell back in love with reading fiction in the past two years. University, and even high school, demanded so much mental energy and time that I couldn’t imagine investing in a book that would take me weeks to read. 250 pages? I’m looking at three months.

Back then I viewed reading ten pages in a single night as an accomplishment (I suppose I never outgrew grade three, when I was first introduced to Power Rangers novellas and was enamoured with fight scenes involving robotic dinosaurs).

Those days are long gone, and though I still have my days when I can’t even get ten pages further in a book, I have my days where I read hundreds of pages out of sheer amazement. I am, perhaps, a maturing reader.

But in those first couple  months of my rediscovery of reading, I read some pretty heavy literature that, in retrospect, I loved. In retrospect, I also had no idea what was happening in them. I was not able to analyse them for anything more than their plot – and even then, there were a few books that completely baffled me. In fact, the beginning of my awakening as a more critical and aware reader likely only happened a year ago when, while reading Yann Martel’s Life of Pi I was reminded of all of those things that I was told to watch for in my high school English Literature course. Thank goodness it had, but in that year of reading I read some great literature that I need to go back to with a critical eye. Are they truly as great as I remember? Or are they even better than anything that I imagined?

I don’t have the urge to revisit all of these books, obviously. Twilight will never need to be reread; I could feel the text scalding my fingers while I was reading it the first time. But a few do peak my interest all over again:

Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden – a tale about a lost neice and a battered uncle in the northern reaches of Ontario’s hinterland, I have often thought that I was ill-prepared for the content of this novel when I read it. But I remember really enjoying it – there is something to say about Joseph Boyden and his prose, and once I pick up this novel again I will be sure to say it. Between now and then, though, I expect to be reading his debut novel, Three Day Road.

The Last of the Crazy People by Timothy Findley – a tale told from the perspective of two very different creatures: a cat, and a small boy. All about the destruction of a mother’s sanity (or perhaps the ongoing tale of her destruction), the distant father, and a brother who is admirably trying to keep everything together and failing to do so (and eventually loses control of himself). I remember being torn when I read this novel, but in retrospect it is undoubtedly powerful. The ending is shocking – you would never expect it when you start the novel.

Old School by Tobias Wolff – if you can imagine a school whose greatest prize is awarded annually to its most creative and impressive creative writer, then you’re far more creative than I (it would only be a dream, no?). In this school, filled with amateur critics each trying to outdo the other, we watch a young man fall in love with the leaders of American literature in the 1950s, strive to meet them, and then be disappointed by them. Two of the authors mentioned, Ayn Rand and Ernest Hemingway, are very different – and I hope to read something by Mr. Hemingway before returning to this book. I myself fell in love with Ayn Rand for a moment or two when reading her book… so I think I will read it far differently than the first time I read it.

Winter in the Blood by James Welch – mostly, I want to reread this novel because I don’t remember what it was about. I remember seeing images of drunkeness and small communities, extended families, and I remember them all being inexplicably connected by the protagonist, a First Nations man. I was almost offended by it – so I think I missed something in the story.

The Oath by Eli Wiesel – the greatest mystery of this novel is in the title. A grandfather has made an oath to never recount the tale of the pogrom that destroyed his village and family and friends when he was younger. I never could figure out why he would do such a thing – my sense of justice was not sufficiently clouded to be anything other than confused. I don’t think I allowed myself to listen to the heart that was beating beneath Eli Wiesel’s prose.

Animal Farm by George Orwell – I read this long, long, long before I was ready for it. I was fourteen, my brother had told me about this novella about animals and communism, and I had just made my first purchase of a major literary work (The Complete Works of George Orwell). I needed to jump into something – anything. So I jumped into this one, and missed all of it’s genius. Last summer when I read 1984 I was disturbed. I imagine Animal Farm has the potential to do the same when you are no longer fourteen when you are reading it.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – I needed a book to read on the plane ride from Germany to Canada in the summer of 2008. It needed to be short – I had almost no space in my bag. I thought the book was interesting, but I never picked up on the satire for which it is famous. In retrospect I am not sure how it is that could have missed it – the characters and their motivations are so carefully drawn. The perspectives that the reader are granted.

I’m curious if there are any books that you would like to reread – books that you’re certain you didn’t get the first time and yet you managed to enjoy anyways. Do you want to go back to them?

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