A friend recently shared the information that her daughter had been assigned to read the book Beloved by Toni Morrison for a high school class last spring. The daughter struggled through the text, disliking it all the way through.
Beloved is one of my favorite works of literature. But I first read it in my early thirties, after my children were born. Would I have understood the book at age 16? Parts, I think. Would I have liked it? I’m not sure, but I think not. I came upon the book at the right time in my life, after I’d had enough life experience to be haunted by some true regrets.
Thinking back, I can recall books I’ve read in years past that left me shaking my head in bewilderment. Crime and Punishment comes to mind. I wonder if I should re-read it now. Maybe I’d get it in some fundamental way I didn’t before. Or maybe not.
I did read, enjoy, and understand many “adult-level” books in my adolescence. So I’ve put very few restrictions on what my kids read. I think they’ll either be ready for a book or they won’t and they’ll figure it out for themselves. Maybe there are hundreds of teens out there who do appreciate Beloved. Maybe there are even some who appreciate Crime and Punishment.
I remember the first true grown-up book I read and enjoyed. It was A Tale of Two Cities. But I had started to read it twice before I finally finished it on the third go.
My 11-year-old son just finished reading the Harry Potter series. When he was younger, we read the first couple of books to him, but he lost interest even as the rest of us in the family were avidly reading and discussing the series. He’d say “I don’t see what the big deal is. I don’t think they’re interesting.”
Then one day around his 11th birthday (the same age as the main character at the beginning of the story), he was looking for something to do, having used his allowed computer time for the day. He spotted Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone lying out on top of the bookcase and picked it up. Two hours later, he looked up and told me “This book is better than I remembered.”
He proceeded to read all seven books straight through. He’d become ready for them.
I think what I’ve figured out is that not only should you not judge a book by its cover. You possibly shouldn’t even judge it by your first reading of it. True, there are many honestly terrible books out there. But sometimes a book I don’t like right off may deserve a second look.