Mark Stolle, Owner, Manchester By The Book
Our Teenage Books. Wasted On The Young?
Wistawa Szymborska (highest, highest recommendation) has a poem (which I can't find anywhere at the moment), in which she recalls who she was as a teenager. It is a great poem by a great poet and it gets me thinking about my own teen age reading self.
What was I thinking!!??
Anytime anybody told me to read something I instinctively loathed it. I couldn't be told what to read, it was my prerogative to find the treasure on my own. Not too bright, I must say. But now I've gone back and re-read books from my high school curriculum (Hamilton-Wenham class of 1987.) And I find that they were right, and I was wrong.
I HATED Great Expectations. A single page sent me into a rant about how boring it was. Now as an adult, I am stunned and amazed at how riveting and outlandishly brilliant it is. And Thomas Hardy? As a 16-year-old I could not bear him. Englishness and country houses and peasants and manners … ugghh. Now I can't get enough of Hardy. Tess of the D'urbervilles is soooo great. And the ending, the ending, the ending, hard to believe such an ending exists. STONEHENGE!
I wish I hadn't been so obstinate; I would have loved those books. And sadly, would maybe, possibly have been a more enlightened person at an earlier age. Luckily, I had one savvy English teacher who would recommend books but not assign them, and then leave cheap copies on a shelf in his classroom. This is how I discovered P.G. Wodehouse. Not on my own, but because my friend Ned picked up a copy from the shelf and was having such a grand time talking to Mr. Jones, I just couldn't stand it. I had to read Wodehouse and join in. I've been reading him ever since.
I also discovered Richard Wright this way. Black Boy was such a revelation and Native Son just shocked me to the core. Even summer reading lists I was a dolt about. I would read all summer long, (I even pretended to have a summer job once so I could have all day by myself reading in the playground at my old school) but like a genius none of the books suggested from the list.
It's also funny what one retains from books read a long time ago. I just re-read A Separate Peace and I had only retained a misty feel of elms and staircases. Knowles's descriptions of the natural beauty of New Hampshire are so gorgeous, I'm sure they were lost on my 17-year-old brain.
And Member of the Wedding.
Oh, how did I miss that one?
But now I can go back, say hello to teenage Mark and lament what I missed but savor it in the moment.