My dad stopped over at our house briefly this past Saturday to sugar our kids up with some early Easter candy and have a short visit. Somewhere during the conversation we wandered over into talking about books that we had read which had made a strong impression upon us the first time we had encountered them, but a second reading of the same book years later failed to recreate that original experience.
It got me to thinking about all the books I read in high school and college – especially the piles of novels and short story collections I consumed as an English major with a focus on modern fiction while at college. So many of those books I read because I had to read them. I remember enjoying some of them, but many of them I approached with the mindset of an assignment. Which in retrospect, probably put up a barrier to me really experiencing the author’s work like he or she may have wanted me to.
Now it just so happened that I had recently finished reading Hogfather by Terry Pratchett (fun in a classic British humor sort of way) and was wondering where to go next. The only new book I had at home was one my father gave me for Christmas, The Ten-Cent Plague. It’s a book that I want to read, but it was still too soon after working through six months and 800 pages of Team of Rivals for me to venture back into a history book again. I crave more stories.
So following our conversation on books’ first impressions, I’ve decided to dig back into the history of my reading log and pull out books I read in high school or college and read them again – but with a twist. Instead of selecting books that I really enjoyed or influenced me upon first read, I’m targeting those books that I really can’t muster up an opinion on because I was so wrapped up on the assignment of reading them the first time.
To start things off, I thought I would go big: The Stories of John Cheever
Considered a modern classic for almost the moment it came off the printing press, I have almost no recollection of reading The Stories of John Cheever even though the copy I own is marked up with notes and observations in my own handwriting. I found the mere existence of its bright red cover within my collection of books a mocking sneer at my experience as a reader.
"You call yourself an English major and you don't even have an opinion on Cheever! Bah!"
I started reading it this morning on the train. In keeping with my experiment – or is it self-imposed assignment? – I am reading only the stories that I had marked in the table of contents that my professor had assigned to the class. It won’t be every story in the collection, but it will be the majority. Once I’ve completed those selections, I won’t have any excuse for not having an opinion on Cheever anymore.
I grabbed two other novels from the boxes of books I have in the basement: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller and The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (mainly because Heather expressed such a dislike of Hemingway’s writing), so I know where I’m headed after I finish my time with Cheever. When I’ve read all those I’ll take a step back and see where I’m at. Maybe it will be more books from my past or maybe it will be time to search out something brand new. Either way, I’m excited to see where things go from here.