Scientists say you have to try a food you don’t like several times before you acquire the taste for it. I’ve always wondered if the same holds true for books. There are countless books to which I have been indifferent or dismissive. There are dozens of works of which I’ve been critical. But there are only a handful of books toward which I have been openly hostile. When I was in high school, I was required to read John Knowles, A Separate Peace.
This is the first book, compulsory reading or otherwise, that I remember truly despising. I thought it bland and elitist, and I never took anything meaningful away from it.
Ten years later, I came across it on my bookshelf during one of my many relocations and decided to re-read it. Long story short, it’s now one of my favorite books. I adore it so much that I reread it every autumn during the back-to-school frenzy, and have made a tradition of reacquainting myself with Gene and Phineas while sitting outside in the crisp fall air drinking pumpkin spiced lattes. (I’m really into literary ambiance.)
Something about this book not only transports me back to my beloved New England, but also embroils me in the emotional complexity that characterizes one’s teenage years. You would think that reading this novel as a teenager would have resonated deeply when I was initially forced to examine it. However, it took reading it as an adult to appreciate the nuances of each character and his evolution as the plot progressed. Perhaps I was too immature intellectually or emotionally to appreciate the narrative. Or it could be that as an adult, I was in the right mindset to open myself up to the story. Maybe I was just curious as to why I hated this book so much to begin with. Regardless of what prompted me to give it another go, doing so encouraged me to open my mind to re-reading books I previously reviled.
I can’t say every attempt has been met with success. In fact, after re-reading J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, (another high school book I detested,) my initial sentiments were only reaffirmed. Holden Caulfield’s crass, entitled persona aside, my ultra-nerdy high school self that matured into a super nerdy adult was (and remains) aghast at how carelessly he threw away his educational opportunities at a prestigious private school. I suppose I’ve never gotten over it.
You can’t love them all, I guess.