Ten (well, six) Books for Which My Feelings Have Changed

Happy Tuesday, friends! The Broke and the Bookish are, as ever, hosting a Top Ten Tuesday, and I love the question for this week:

Ten Books I Feel Differently About After Time Has Passed (less love, more love, complicated feelings, indifference, thought it was great in a genre until you became more well read in that genre etc.)

I couldn’t think of ten — my initial responses to most of the books I read continue to hold true on rereads — but here are six, anyway!

1. Emma, by Jane Austen – I think the problem here is that I saw Clueless, one of the world’s most perfect movies, long before I read Emma, and it left me unfit to enjoy the book. It wasn’t that I thought Emma was a dick (I love Emma actually, and I super-identify with her), it was just that I thought the book she was in was terminally boring. I finally read it during a slow day at my second-ever job1 and couldn’t figure out what my problem with it had ever been. It’s my favorite Jane Austen book now!


2. Rose in Bloom, by Louisa May Alcott – No, I know, I’m hitting all the absolute high points in contemporary fiction with this list. DEAL WITH IT. When I read Rose in Bloom as a kid, I thought it was super boring and I didn’t understand why Rose was ever into Charlie in the first place. Or Mac. What was her deal, I thought. Rereading it as an adult (this is true of An Old-Fashioned Girl too actually!), I’m surprised by the level of nuance Alcott gets into both of those relationships. Young Jenny missed it completely.

3. Angela and Diabola, Lynne Reid Banks – I loved this book when I was a kid. As an adult, I felt slightly smug that I was never that into the Indian in the Cupboard books in the first place, reserving my true love for Lynne Reid Banks’s lesser-known, unracist kids’ books, including this one and the apocalyptically terrifying The Fairy Rebel. What superb critical taste my younger self had, I thought.

the pride before which a fall goeth

I recently reread Angela and Diabola and it was a hella rude awakening. (The Fairy Rebel is still fine. That book rocks. Don’t read it right before bed though, or if you have wasps living near you.) The good twin has fair skin and golden hair, and the bad twin is darker-skinned with corkscrew curls. The corkscrew curls are mentioned a lot. It is — uncomfortable to read. Would not give to a child.2

4. We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson – When I lived in England, I checked this out of our library (which had a paternoster lift, see below for gif depiction) and thought I was going to die of boredom.

so called because you say a prayer when you get in it that you won’t die. Before you ask, yes, you can ride it over the top and down onto the other side

As with Emma, I don’t know what was going on in my head the first time I tried to read this book. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is the furthest thing from boring, and I’m so glad book bloggers convinced me give Shirley Jackson another try. Thanks, bloggers!

5. Possession, A. S. Byatt – People who don’t do a lot of rereading often ask me if I worry that rereading a book will make me like it less. Yes, I think about that sometimes; but if what me and the book had was true love, not just a fling, it should stand the test of time. Possession is a rare but notable failure of rereading. When I first read this book I loved it. Couldn’t put it down. Called it the Arcadia of novels. Was baffled that I never got on with any of A. S. Byatt’s other books. Then I reread it and was like:

OH WELL. I guess it wasn’t true love.

6. Fire and Hemlock, by Diana Wynne Jones. Let me clarify something: My feelings for this book haven’t changed. I loved it when I first read it, I loved it every time I reread it, and I continue to love it with a fierce and abiding passion. What’s changed is that I realize now, in a way I didn’t as a teenager, how many legitimate truth bombs about morality and emotions and adulthood Diana Wynne Jones is dropping in this book. The example I always use is “being a hero means ignoring how silly you feel” — which, goddamn, that is the truest truth that maybe I have ever encountered in fiction. Standing up for what’s right does not actually have a stirring musical soundtrack. More like a soundtrack of chilly, uncomfortable, disapproving silence.

7. See also: The vast majority of Diana Wynne Jones books. I’ve disliked all but maybe four of her books, upon reading them for the first time. Not for nothing did they name Jenny’s Law after me: Diana Wynne Jones Is Better on a Reread.

What about you, friends? Are you a big rereader, or not so much? Do you generally stay true to your first impressions, or can you think of some books you’ve grown out of / into over the years?

  1. Shh, don’t tell my college bookstore.
  2. Just this last Christmas, by contrast, I gave The Fairy Rebel to a child of my acquaintance and she PROBABLY LOVED IT.

64 thoughts on “Ten (well, six) Books for Which My Feelings Have Changed”

  1. Oooo, you took a good positive look on this one – the only thing I was thinking when I saw the prompt was books I fell *out* of love with. I’m with you, though, there are a bunch of books I read at the wrong time (mostly too young) that I like much more now.

    1. Yes! Reading books too young can be such a mistake, especially if you never have a chance to go back and revisit them. I purposely took a positive stance on this because I get a LOT of skepticism about the fact that I sometimes try again with books that didn’t work for me. “Does that ever change your mind?” people ask me. Yes! It totally does!

  2. I liked Rose in Bloom when I was young, but wonder if I missed the nuance! It was a long time ago. I LOvED Possession, but have never even “kind of” liked any of Byatt’s other books I’ve read (or abandoned). I’ve had reread disappointments and reread re-evaluations–for all sorts of reasons.

    1. Read Rose in Bloom again! Honestly, I think you’ll be surprised. I slightly overstated how much I didn’t like it as a kid — I thought parts of it were good and parts of it were boring, but as an adult, most of the parts I thought were boring really were not.

  3. You know there’s a term for re-reading a book and finding that all the things you loved have been sucked out of it–Jo Walton calls it a visit from the “suck Fairy” (http://www.tor.com/2010/09/28/the-suck-fairy/).
    I had a series of books about Simon Templar–the Saint–and I loved them as an adolescent. As an adult, though, the suck fairy came and sucked a lot of what I had enjoyed about them away.

      1. Madeleine L’Engle. I read EVERYTHING by her, so many times. The joy is gone, mostly, and I don’t bother any more. What did I ever see in those prissy, over-intellectualized, annoying people? Probably I wanted to be the sort of person who knew, at age 15, who the heck Montaigne is, and could name my dog Fortinbras instead of Shep. I totally thought that naming your dog something in Latin or Shakespeare was a thing cool people did. It’s not. Suck Fairy indeed.

        1. And also I thought Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books were the best thing ever. *shudder*

  4. Haha, I love The Philadelphia Story.
    Some of the books I HAD to read for HS (consequently ruined by HS teachers) I now find far less obnoxious. I did not like THE GREAT GATSBY back in the day, but looking back I think it was because my teacher beat it to death.

    1. Hahaha, I actually want to reread The Great Gatsby. I really liked it when we read it in high school (and again in college), but I’m wondering if on a reread I would find the imagery a trifle heavy-handed. :p

  5. Oh man, ‘The Fairy Rebel’ — I loved this book as a kid, but forgot about it completely until I saw it on a friends bookshelf a few months ago and I HAD TO HAVE IT IMMEDIATELY. My confused but obliging spouse found me a copy for my birthday. I still haven’t re-read it because I’m worried that it won’t live up tot hat rosy glow of memory.

    1. NO NO it totally does! It totally does. I promise. You’re older now so it’s not as viscerally scary, but all the creepiness is still there, and all the charm and humor as well. Read it! And then come tell me what you thought!

  6. Definitely lots of books I loved as a kid but when I try to re-visit them as an adult it’s disappointing. Few stand up to that. But likewise there are some I’m glad I gave another try. I can think of two right now- National Velvet bored me when I first tried it as a kid, but on the third read I really loved it and now it’s among my favorites. I just read The Inheritors by William Golding- I’d tried it before and found it incomprehensible but this time it was rather interesting and made a lot more sense.

    1. I think when I was a kid, I was more prone to rereading books I hated just because the children’s section of the library was limited (or it seemed limited, anyway), and I wanted more things to read. Now that I’m a grown-up I sometimes wonder if I’m missing out by not being more willing to go back to books that didn’t initially work for me.

      1. Yeah. But I’m also less patient now- I don’t re-read as many books for a second try because there are so many more out there on my list I want to get to!

  7. I had the same experience reading Emma! I love Jane Austen, I do, but the whole time I was reading Emma I was like “well, alright this is Cher. And this is Josh. And why is this so much less charming?” Clearly I need to re-read Emma now that I’m older and more refined and haven’t seen Clueless quite so recently.

    1. “Older and more refined.” Yeah I almost spit coffee out my nose typing that. I couldn’t just let it stand.

    2. *cracks up* Look, I mean, think of it this way. Clueless was made with great love for the source material, so there’s no reason you can’t love it too. Do you like Jane Austen, in general?

      PS I think you are very VERY refined inDEED.

      1. I DO like Jane Austen in general! I can’t remember when exactly I decided to read Emma… I think it was directly after Sense and Sensibility and I probably just needed a break from Austenland.

  8. Some people don’t reread exactly so they won’t spoil their first impression of a book – I find it fascinating how our reading experiences change over time, though, and I do a lot of rereading. As with the paternoster lift (great image!) some books go up and some go down in my esteem. I’ll even try a third time sometimes to see if anything has changed again.

  9. I can’t even remember if I ever read Emma or I gave up on it after enjoying Clueless so much. LOL. I still need to read Fire and Hemlock! I tried reading it for Halloween one time but I just wasn’t in the mood for it.

  10. Now I’m sad that I have never read the Fairy Rebel. Never even heard of the other one. My younger self would have thought the curls were better in every way (after all, I did grow up in the era of spiral perms!).

    There was something about the early 90s that made Possession a hit. We all loved it. WHY. Now I have a hard time tolerating A. S. Byatt.

    DWJ, mistress of truth bombs you didn’t even realize were there. I think it’s partly that she doesn’t point them out and go LOOK at my truth bomb! Neither does she point out how scarily intelligent and wise she is.

    1. YES EXACTLY. DWJ is never hammering the point home, but it’s always there, and as you get older you’re just like “well shitdamn madam that is super true.” Like the thing about hope being an anchor? That is so cynical slash amazing!

      Also, you should read The Fairy Rebel. You have not missed your chance. It’s still great. And I am quite fond of The Farthest Away Mountain, as well.

      1. It really is (the anchor). I think that might have roots in Christian symbolism–we all know hope is an anchor to hang on to in hard times, but the other day in my Faerie Queene project, Spenser has Faith, Hope, and Charity show up, and of course Hope is carrying an anchor. She’s also very serious, not all smiley like Faith, and it’s because of the anchor. I’m not sure what the deal is there, exactly.

        OK, I’ll see if I can get the Fairy Rebel.

  11. I remember l read all Mary Stewart’s Githic romances (her homage to Jane Eyre, Nine Coaches Waiting, is my favorite still) and then tried to read her Merlin books and got nowhere. Expectations! And now The Crystal Cave et al are my most reliable comfort reads.

    I’m so glad you liked Rose in Bloom on the reread! I have to say, l was absurdly disappointed when you didn’t like it. Alcott for sure knew some alcoholics in real life.

  12. Hmmmm…. Fire and Hemlock. You make it sounds so pivotal and life changing which makes me feel dorky for DNFing it a couple months ago. It felt slow at the time and I was a little squicked out by Polly (that’s her name right?) and the older gentleman’s friendship which I think was brought on by the truly creepy cover for the second hand copy I have. I should maybe give it another try when I’m in a more contemplative mood.

    1. Yeah… It is a retelling of Tam Lin, so that sort of works as the story goes if you can get beyond it initially!

    2. Hahahaha, no, I mean, I probably commented on this at the time, but that is an element of the book that hasn’t aged super well. (Which is sad in a way? Like it’s a bummer for dudes that if they enjoy spending time with kids, people think they are Highly Suspicious. Nobody thinks that about women.) If you can’t get over that part, it’s — probably not going to be that great a read. However! I read it when I was thirteen or fourteen, and the transition that Polly makes from first thinking of him as a million years old, and then only later and much older realizing that he’s youngish and hot, seemed perfectly reasonable to me at the time. Well, reasonableish.

      1. It’s true that the stranger danger mentality is a bigger thing these days and, perhaps unfairly, focused primarily on men. I think my skepticism is mostly affected by the fact that I happen not to be a “kid person”. I mean I love my nephews and friends’ kids just fine and would certainly hep a stranger child in crisis but striking up a friendship with a non-related adolescent girl (or boy)? Nope. I definitely would have gotten very different vibes about it if I had read it as a young person because I was of course completely fascinating and charming at that age 😉 and it wouldn’t have seemed at all weird if some random adult wanted to be my BFF. So yeah. A little bit of my personal foibles and age in there as well. I will give it another try sometime this summer when I’m feeling less stress and more generous towards my fellow humans:). I do enjoy a May-December type romance so have no problems with big age differences as long as everybody is all adulted and it sounds like the book eventually gets there.

  13. Paternoster lifts???? I had to immediately go and look that up!! That is so cool and also incredibly scary!!! You win my award for most fun fact I’ve learnt today (not really am actual award in case you were expecting a certificate or something)! 😁

  14. Maybe I need to give Emma another chance. Cos all I could think is “Why aren’t you Cher?”

  15. I love rereading books! 9/10 times its so much more rewarding than the first read. I have to say I struggled SO HARD through Rose in Bloom when I was a teen. I just eventually gave up. And I’ve tried so many times to like We Have Always Lived In the Castle—in both book and movie format—and just could not get into it. It sounds like it would be up my alley, but nope.

    1. YES! Oh man, I am so glad I have found another person who agrees with me about rereading. When I read an awesome book for the first time, most of what I’m thinking is “I can’t wait to reread this and have it become an old and comfortable favorite.” So good.

  16. Gosh, just below the surface of my conscious mind bubble lots of books I hated first time/loved first time but now feel differently about. And I cannot think of a single one of them. Too little coffee at this time in the morning? Too much age? I cannot tell. But I enjoyed your post. And I cannot understand why so many people dislike Emma.

    But PATERNOSTER LIFTS! Neither caffeine deficit nor year surplus can erase my traumatic encounter with one of those when I went to visit a friend who taught in a university history department. I may have made a fool of myself. I don’t fully understand the workings so have always wondered whether you turn upside down if you go over the top – although I haven’t wondered enough to google it, I suppose.

  17. Love this post! But just like Helen, I know there are loads of books that qualify and i can’t think of one right now for the life of me. But yes! It has happened many times, in both directions.

  18. I’m often nervous to give old books to children, because of inappropriate racial stuff, gender stereotyping, etc. I feel like I need to re-read them all first. For my own kids, I just tell them to remember that it was written a long time ago when people thought terrible things about other people and it was considered okay (they’re old enough to get that now). Then again, I read all those books…

    1. You know, I say “I read all those books,” and then I kind of think about some of the messages I internalized from them. Like, my parents are as liberal as can be, and I was still in high school before I realized what “to jew someone down” must have come from and stopped saying it. I think even if you consciously know that all [group] aren’t [stereotype], it can still be easy for your brain to default back to that because that’s what you’ve oftenest encountered. So it’s tricky!

  19. Ah…. I loved Emma! In fact, I didn’t even know that Clueless was an adaptation – not sure if I read Emma before seeing the movie or what but LOVED EMMA! and loved the movie. As for your fave author DWJ, I only wish I had met her at the time I met CS Lewis. oh well. AND what is this thing “paternoster lift”? how do I not know of this?! NOW ON MY BUCKET LIST. I have not been a re-reader. Many of the few I have were accidental. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe were almost ruined upon re-read and it sickens me to say. I do like the movies, however. I do think that if you didn’t reread as a youngster, it is just tough to do as an adult. I could be wrong. I suppose — but it just never occurred to me to reread a book. I had read it already!! what would I need to reread it?! Were you encouraged to reread as a kid? Did your parents demonstrate and also re-read?! sigh. Here’s where I might redeem myself: I totally fell in love with Mrs. Dalloway upon the second read. But that’s it. Can’t even think of any book I’ve reread other than than that was a good experience.

    1. I was encouraged to reread as a kid both by the fact that my mother did a lot of rereading, and because I was a voracious reader with a limited well of recommendations for new books. You know? And children’s publishing wasn’t as vibrant back then, so that was probably a factor as well, and what with one thing and another, I went back to a lot of the same library books a lot of times.

      1. Cool. 🙂
        I do remember when I started reading adult books – I wonder if that was because I was bored or out of kids books? Hmmmmm. I started reading Agatha Christie, I recall.

  20. The Top 100 Chapter Books Project that I do over on Estella Society has me rereading some books that I thought were childhood favorites and many of them are not holding up so well. But then I reread something (To Kill a Mockingbird) that I thought I hated in high school and it turns out to be so wonderful that I can’t help wanting to reread all of the books just to see how they are now … except for The Grapes of Wrath. I reserve the right to always hate that book.

    1. Hahahaha, I’m cracking up — really? The Grapes of Wrath was the worst one of all? How come? You don’t like John Steinbeck’s writing, or the messaging was too heavy-handed? I actually surprised myself by not hating that one: The message is SO heavy-handed, but I thought his writing was just gorgeous.

      1. I thought it was wonderful when I read it years ago, and I need to re-read. On the whole, I have a terrible prejudice about California books–I mean I’m *from* Bakersfield, I don’t want to read about it too–but I liked that one.

      2. It was the messaging … and the fact that it was the most boring book I had ever read up to that point. I was in high school and not really recognizing good writing yet. I should read something else from Steinbeck though so I get the good writing without the dustbowl agony.

  21. Confession: I don’t get Diana Wynne Jones. I tried several times – Howl’s Moving Castle is on my list of “movies better than the book”).

    Because I’m not from an anglo-saxon country, I don’t get a lot of the dogmas around many children’s books popular in the book blogging community. I read Narnia, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, The Secret Garden and others as an adult and it becomes pretty easy to spot the morals. Which makes it a bit scary – what’s the actual impact of these books in children, that aren’t exactly critical thinkers?

    1. Well, for what it’s worth, I didn’t change my religious beliefs or ideas about gender norms or views on the, er, validity of astral projection based on those books. I think those messages are a drop in the bucket compared to whatever morals you’re getting from your parents and classmates as a kid — which is scary in another way, honestly! I will say that I have met very, very few people (if any?) who read the Narnia books for the first time as adults and liked them. I think those are some books you truly have to read as a kid.

      I’m not going to tell you to keep trying with DWJ, because not all authors are for all people. But she’s written a TON of extremely different books, so maybe try a different one? And also, it really is true what I said in this post: I hardly ever enjoy her books the first time I read them. Very often I give up in bored disgust and tell myself she’s lost her touch as a writer, and then later those books end up becoming huge favorites. Happened with Deep Secret, happened with Time of the Ghost, happened with Archer’s Goon, I cannot account for it.

    2. I’m not sure kids get the moral messages nearly as much as we might think. I can clearly remember not picking up on stuff that is completely obvious in those books (I had to be told, in college, by my Jewish boyfriend, about Narnia’s incredibly obvious Christ story, because I’m really not all that bright and I’d read them so young and so many times that the morals were mostly invisible to me). Maybe that’s why the morals in them are so heavy-handed! Kids are in it for the adventure, and can totally miss things like plot coherency and moral messaging.

  22. I *used* to be a big re-reader. Now? Well, not so much. In a way, I miss the chance to reconnect with old favorites. I think I would be hard-pressed to come up with ten books that I used to love or vice versa as well. Either I am very lucky in what I consider my favorites or else I am not discerning enough to pick up on things that would make me change my mind.

  23. Don’t feel bad about Emma. First time I read it I thought it was “ok” but just didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. Austen’s masterpiece? Yeah right. I reread it a couple years ago and, while I did not love it, I liked it very much and found much humor in it. I don’t reread a lot, usually only a couple books a year. Too many books I haven’t read yet!

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