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Monday, October 24, 2005

Chapter Forty-Seven, in which Books are not written in Stone

Julie's comments in everyone's favorite Chapter Thirty-Nine have stirred thoughts in this chapter. If a book wows you when you read it the first time, and disappoints you when you read it a second time, what does that mean? Does a book have one set meaning, or can the meaning change with the reader?

When you were a child and read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, a great portion of it must have been nearly indecipherable as well as meaningless. When you mature and read it again, suddenly you find the wit and wisdom brilliant and cannot sing enough praise. In such a case our sensibilities change, and so our reception of the book.

A book such as Dracula was, in its time, bold edge-of-your-seat terror and unlike anything ever before published. Today, a young reader raised on Lestat and Buffy might find the classic silly and unconvincing, or slow and boring. In this case society has changed, and so our reception of the book.

I read The Great Gatsby for the first time many years ago. I still read it regularly. For me, this is a near perfect novel with sparkling prose throughout. And even though I know what is coming, every time Tom strikes Mrs. Wilson, I still wince. On the other hand, when I first read First Love by Turgenev, I was positively thrown. Now, when I read it again, I think it has lost its edge for me because I know who Zinaida's lover is. The story is no less well-written, but the shock of surprise is gone.

Finally, think of the many books that have been panned by highly-regarded critics when they were released, only to be praised as classics and masterpieces now.

Should our reviews and judgements of books be life sentences upon them? Perhaps if we enjoy a book we ought not to read it again, for fear it will lose its luster, or be revealed as something less than we had once thought. And perhaps if we are disappointed with a book, we ought to give it another chance after life has given us a few different perspectives. Could it be that books are not what authors make them, but what readers make them?

1 comment:

  1. Ah, Julie, I was born and raised in Dangerous Territory. This subject is fascinating to me. Round up those stray thoughts and toddlers and put them together into something we can all read and learn from.