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.

More books from my childhood

So Mary Francis Shura’s The Josie Gambit is where I learned pretty much everything I knew about chess.  Twelve-year-old chess geek Greg is spending six months with his grandmother, and he reunites with his old friend and chess partner Josie.  Josie has an absolutely hateful friend Tory, whose utter nastiness everyone is at a loss to explain.  And the book is, essentially, all about why Tory is such a nasty girl.

When I was small, I liked this book because everyone ate a lot of food, and I learned interesting things about chess, and there was a very unpleasant Lhaso Apso, which I thought was funny.  As an adult I am still pleased with it, though for different reasons.  I like it because chess is completely twined around the story.  A large portion of the plot centers around chess – Greg learned chess in the first place from Josie’s grandmother, and Greg and Josie and Tory are all part of the school chess team – and the internal structure of the plot is very chessy.  It’s much with the opening moves and the counters, and the – I don’t know, other chess terms.  (I really know very little about chess.)

And today I reread Little Women. I love Little Women.  There are so many bits of Little Women that I love – the whole chapter about the Pickwick Papers and the Post Office sounds so friendly and cozy, and I love it when Jo makes friends with Laurie, and Beth makes friends with Mr. Laurence. And it’s amazing how I can find Beth absolutely nauseating and still cry like a baby when she dies.  I cry when she and Jo even talk about her dying.  I love this book.  I love Louisa May Alcott, even when she’s being horribly sanctimonious.

Louisa May Alcott does loads better at writing about children than adults – Rose in Bloom is less good than Eight Cousins, and same goes for the other two books about the March girls.  People are more fun when they aren’t being virtuous all the time.  If there were a book just about Marmee and Mr. Alcott, I would tear my face off.  I hate it when Marmee tells nauseating stories to her daughters (blech!).  But I digress.  Louisa May Alcott is brilliant with her characters really, and probably more than ordinarily in Little Women, or maybe I just think that because I read it when I was so little.  I love that you can see them growing up, and they grow up totally themselves – Amy is still Amy when she grows up, only nicer and more mature!  Brilliant!  And Laurie and Jo are great as best friends, but I know they wouldn’t really suit as a married couple.  (Though I slightly still want them to get married because I like Laurie and I identify with Jo.)