Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Some book talk (don't worry - NO spoilers)

I've assigned William a novel to read. I rarely do this. Although he likes me to make suggestions, his reading choice is usually up to him. Why have I assigned him a book, you ask? The simplified answer is, because I can.

I might have already mentioned this incident before. About seven or eight years ago, a local high school teacher wanted to to have students in an Advanced English class read Barbara Kingsolver's book, The Bean Trees. The proposal went before our town's very conservative school board, and they denied the request. It didn't seem to cause much of a fuss in town, but one very determined journalist kept the story going in the local newspaper over the course of about month. Maybe news was slow or something.

I was curious, bought the book, and read it. I loved it and eventually gobbled up most of Kingsolver's other books. But the thing that stuck with me the most from the experience was how baffled I was at why the book had been considered inappropriate for teenagers. If anything, I thought it was a perfect book for a teenage audience because it was about young people who live under trying circumstances and in my mind, even though they didn't have to, they end up making strong ethical choices. Isn't that exactly what we want to teach our own children?! Sheesh.

It's always annoyed me that the book wasn't allowed in that English class, although for all I know, maybe it just made the book more appealing to the teenagers and ultimately even more people ended up reading it. Who knows. My point here is that about a month ago I realized that as a homeschooling family, I was in charge of what my teenager read, and I enjoyed the silly, defiant feel of assigning the book to my "class".

William was a bit skeptical as first, but seems to be enjoying the book. I thought he might even though he usually reads fantasy, because his favorite books so far have been those that were big on character development and growth. I sweetened the deal by offering to read along with him, so many pages each day. Last night William pointed out to me that that I was falling behind because I had forgotten to read in it yesterday and because he was reading more pages a day then I had asked him to read.

Today Jeff, William and I went out to lunch and we were discussing the book. I commented on how much I was getting out of this second reading. Until recently I wasn't the type of person who generally re-read anything. Once I'd read the last page, I was on to something new. I mean, there are so many books out there that I'm never gonna have time to read everything I'd like to read, why waste time re-reading something?

In the last few years I've accumulated more bibliophile friends and it was a surprise to me how many of them were re-readers. I decided maybe I was missing something, so I gave a few favorites a try. I discovered the joys of re-reading a book. During our lunch today, I was trying to explain those joys to Jeff and William.

The first time I read a book, I'm swept along with the characters, concentrating primarily on the plot. What's gonna happen? How is it gonna end? I've discovered that when I read a book a second time, since I already know the outcome, I slow down, pick up more details, linger a bit longer to savor particularly well worded descriptions, discover poignant foreshadowing and symbolism that I missed on the first read. Too, if enough time goes by between readings, I come at the book as a different person, in a different stage of my life, and I see and understand it from a different perspective. For a long while I've understood the value of watching movies or seeing a play more then once, it's sort of mindboggling that it took me this long to apply the same idea to books.

The last book I re-read before this one was Wicked. I'd read the book years ago and then recently seen the play. I wanted to re-read the book to compare it to the play, see how much was the same, how much was different. Although I hadn't disliked the book the first time I read it, I remember mainly feeling uncertain about how I felt about it. I finally decided that the fact that I spent so much time thinking about it afterwards made it an effective story, if not necessarily a pleasant one. I was surprised to discover on my second read how thoroughly I enjoyed the book AND how I had somehow completely missed two huge themes that ran through the plot. And I do mean HUGE themes. I'd somehow missed the entire commentary on politics and I'd missed that everything that Elphaba did was driven by her need for.... well, I hate spoilers, so read it yourself and find out. I even missed a lot of the "what is Evil, how do we define it, what makes someone evil or good?" Are you all just shaking your head at how I could read a book and somehow MISS all of this depth? (It's almost as embarrassing as my niece, who read the The Da Vinci Code, and somehow missed that the Louvre was a museum in Paris!) I mean, it's not that I missed all those points entirely. It's more that I didn't think about them as deeply, understand them as thoroughly. I just let them sink in without really thinking about it - until I read the book a second time.

Moving on...

Back at lunch this afternoon, the conversation moved into the Harry Potter books and how I have been wanting to re-read them for years now and somehow still haven't done so. William and I were taking turns updating Jeff on the plot because a) he doesn't actually read books, he just skims them, b) he hasn't read past the first two Potter books, and c) he likes to know what happens beforehand (whereas I hate spoilers with a passion!) What can I say, he's an odd fellow. My friend Kathy is like that too. But I digress...

I was going on about where the story was left at the end of the sixth book and suddenly, in a flash, I completely UNDERSTOOD something that Rowling has yet to tell us! Like a camera flash, POOOOOF!, in my head. And then, after I UNDERSTOOD it, I couldn't un-understand it. I just sat there, one arm hanging over the table in the middle of an unfinished gesture, a stunned look on my face.

"What!?" Jeff and William asked. I think they thought I was choking on my food or something.

"I just realized what is going to happen!"

"WHAT! TELL US!" they begged.

I wouldn't tell them. They insisted, I resisted, but ultimately decided it if they really wanted to know.... So I told them. Jeff took it as truth. William and I both were quick to point out that I might be wrong. (I think William suddenly UNDERSTOOD it too, and was a bit bummed that he had asked me to share my theory).

It's not like I figured it all out. I just figured out a piece of the story that I hadn't figured out before but suddenly made all sorts of other parts of the story fall into place and make sense to me. For all I know, millions of other readers have figured this bit out long ago and I'm way behind the story curve. Or, conversely, I could be completely wrong. But y'know, I don't think I am. Now that I "see" it, it feels inevitable to me.

And no, I'm NOT gonna tell you.


Blogger kristen said...

glad to know i wasn't the only friend who was nearly apoplectic (sp?) upon hearing you don't re-read books.

there are many that i've re re re read and find new stuff almost every time. and i think you're right, it probably *is* because i'm in a different place in my life.

but i want to know what you are thinking is going to be happening in potterland dagnabbit!

11:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I haven't read any of the HP books. Can you believe it?? LOL. We have the first 3 and I keep meaning to read them with Dylan. I do like re-reading my favorite books now and then, too. It seems like I always notice something I never noticed before and/or understand themes and characters much more clearly the second time around.

9:51 PM  

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