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!

Emma

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.

Review: The Children’s Book, A. S. Byatt

Have you heard of this book? It is as long as the prime meridian. I am not even lying. It follows several families of (mostly) forward-thinking artists and businesspeople from the late 1890s to the early part of the First World War. It is eight trillion pages of thick, lush prose, and if a book blogger found, as she drew closer to the end, that she simply could not bear to wade through the war poetry of a character she never felt lived up to his full potential of interestingness, well, you can understand how that would happen.

I sound crabby now, but I did not begin this way. A.S. Byatt won my heart early. She did it thus:

He believed Lord Rosebery’s name had been mentioned in the sad events surrounding the recent trial. It had been rumoured that the sad death of Lord Queensberry’s eldest son — not Lord Alfred Douglas, but Lord Drumlanrig — had been not a shooting accident but an act of self-destruction, designed — they did say — to protect Lord Rosebery’s good name?

This was indeed rumoured about poor Francis. (Lord Queensberry’s father also died in a “hunting accident” that was believed to be a suicide. Do you think that’s where Francis got the idea from? Or was this just standard practice amongst suicidal peers of the realm?) I do not know that I buy into the story that Lord Queensberry used this rumour to blackmail the government into prosecuting Oscar Wilde to the full extene of the law. I think he believed it, but of course he didn’t need to think someone was screwing his son in order to call them “Jew queer” in letters. Oh, Marquess of Queensberry.

Then I got a bit bogged down in how many characters there were. They all get introduced at the same time, at a Midsummer’s party hosted by the (arguably) main characters. There are so many characters. There are fifty thousand characters. But at the beginning, I was okay with it. At the beginning, I was interested in finding out what was going to happen to these characters, how the network of relationships was going to develop and change as the years went by. I loved Philip, the young artist caught sleeping in and taking sketches at the museum at the very beginning, and I loved how taking him creating a whole series of fresh new relationships with different gender and age and class dynamics. I loved Dorothy for deciding she wanted to be a doctor, and I thought Tom had serious potential as a very cool character.

At a certain point, however, I got frustrated. In part, I was frustrated that the children all got split up, and I didn’t get to see their relationships growing. That wasn’t the main thing though. I can pinpoint the moment at which I stopped loving the book and started wishing A.S. Byatt would get on with it. It was when Tom left school and became suddenly all gamekeepery and bucolic. I wanted to slap him, and every time he showed up again, I wanted to slap him harder.

But Byatt was wonderful at times:

“It is a terrible thing to be a woman. You are told people like to look at you — as though you have a duty to be the object of…the object of…And then, afterwards, if you are rejected, if what you…thought you were worth…is after all not wanted…you are nothing.”

She gave a little shrug, and pulled herself together, and said “Poor Elsie,” in an artificial, polite, tea-party voice, though she had not offered, and did not offer, to make tea.

Moments like this came close to making up for Byatt’s intense long-windedness, aggravating gamekeeper character Tom, and determination to throw into her book every Victorian thing except the Victorian kitchen sink. It isn’t that I object to a cameo by Oscar Wilde, even a cameo where he is pathetic and wretched; but toward the end of the book, I got tired of so many Victorian and Edwardian figures showing up and strolling around for no particular reason.

I need to go back and reread Possession. I didn’t read the poetry in that one either, but it had a very compelling plot that kept me absolutely enthralled all through the novel, rather than through only half of it like The Children’s Book. Sigh. Well, anyway, this highly ambivalent review brought to you by the clash of my love of the Victorian and Edwardian eras with a horrific preponderance of deathless prose and a small but significant number of missed emotional beats.

Other reviews:

things mean a lot
Book Snob
Farm Lane Books Blog
Random Jottings of a Book and Opera Lover
Vulpes Libris
The Indextrious Reader
books i done read
Cornflower Books
Hannah Stoneham’s Book Blog

Let me know if I missed yours!