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.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson

Creeeepy.  I read The Haunting of Hill House and liked it a lot, but when I read We Have Always Lived in the Castle, I thought, “Oh, yes, there’s the lady who wrote ‘The Lottery’.”  There are some of the same themes here, particularly towards the end, that mob mentality and the fear of things being different.  My review’s going to contain spoilers, because I don’t know how to talk about the book without any spoilers at all.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is about two sisters, Merricat and Constance, who live with their uncle Julian, the three of them all that survived an arsenic poisoning that killed the rest of their family.  Constance, in her twenties at the time of the event, fell under suspicion, and twelve-year-old Merricat went into an orphanage while Constance was on trial.  Now Merricat is a slightly odd eighteen-year-old dedicated to creating spells and protections to keep strangers away from her family.

I have no idea why I took against this book with such a passion when I read it for the first time in England.  It’s really good!  I love how the first half of the book builds towards the revelation of what happened to make Constance and Merricat and Uncle Julian such outsiders.  Shirley Jackson does a great job of writing Merricat, her efforts to keep her family safe from the outside world, how she needs Constance, particularly, to stay with her, how she dreams of them both getting away from everything (“going to the moon”).

Shirley Jackson can build an atmosphere, I have to say. In this as well as in The Haunting of Hill House (and her short stories), there’s a pervasive feeling of wrongness about what’s going on.  You can’t always put your finger on what’s wrong exactly, and when you can you can’t explain why it’s so ominous, but it always makes you a smidge uncomfortable.  I loved the fixation on Constance’s cooking, for instance, in the first parts of the book.  It’s a mundane detail except that there’s such an emphasis on it, and then every time it’s mentioned you start feeling jittery.

England Jenny was a cranky face.  We Have Always Lived in the Castle is great.  Thanks to my lovely blog commenters for repeatedly insisting that it was worth a read and was even better than The Haunting of Hill House.  I am not sure I agree, because I like haunted house stories, but it is definitely very very good.

Other people’s thoughts: Hey Lady! Whatcha Reading?, things mean a lot, Asylum, A Striped Armchair, Bart’s Bookshelf, Book Addiction, So Many Books, BooksPlease, The Bookling, Save Ophelia, Bending Bookshelf, book-a-holic, Bibliolatry, Bold. Blue. Adventure, Booknotes by Lisa, books i done read, Books and Cooks

Let me know if I missed yours!