There is something really gratifying about revisiting a really beloved book from years ago and finding that it’s even better than you remember. Over the past year or so, I’ve re-read several classics which thrilled me on the first go-round. Most of them I devoured as a teenager. I thought they were grand, and I loved mentally checking them off my lists of “must-reads.” But as much as I loved them twenty years ago, they resonate exponentially more with my jaded thirty-something self. And this time, I’m not reading them to check them off my list.
I’m pretty sure I was around fifteen when I first read Rebecca, Jane Eyre, and Angle of Repose–three of my favorites. This time, my appreciation went deeper than relishing the mechanics of the well-told tale. I felt a greater understanding for the marriage which persevered imperfectly through many hardships in Wallace Stegner’s masterpiece. It’s the sort of thing that is beyond the realm of a junior high school teen to fully appreciate. As Jack’s mom, I found Rebecca De Winter repulsive because of the way she treated the mentally disabled character in Daphne du Maurier’s old school best-seller. And I felt greater kinship with both Jane and Mr. Rochester, simply because I too have lived a little and seen that life unfolds unpredictably and sometimes painfully. I’m pretty confident that Charlotte Bronte wrote about disappointment and trial so well, because they populated her short life.
Currently I’m sailing through The Great Gatsby. It was pure drudgery reading it for my high school English class. This time though, I’m enchanted by Fitzgerald’s poetic description of the hollow meaninglessness of materialism. I remember that during my junior year, Mrs. Thompson (Margot, as we sassily called her behind her back) pointed out the layered symbolism in the text, and pretty effectively described the function each character played. But it wasn’t until now that it all distilled upon my newer, sadder perspective, and the grown-up me could bask in this beautiful book about people seeking all the wrong things.
It makes me wonder if I will revisit my old favorites twenty years from now and find that I really missed out on some of the best insights about human nature, relationships, and facing adversity. Maybe I’ll have a wiser, more experienced perspective, allowing me see a whole NEW array of ideas emanating from good reads, previously read. I will say this, though: my ravenous reading of Gatsby has reinforced to me that life is about more than creating and fulfilling a bucket list. We are more than the sum of our parts. The physical trappings are revealing, but they do not define who we are.
It’s a notion that sparks and sizzles in my brain because it seems so fundamentally true. And it holds so much more meaning now that I am a mother than it did when I was a lass with lots of ideas about life, but little in the way of actual life experience. I’m so glad that Fitzgerald and Bronte and Stegner wrote so brightly and beautifully, and that Margot Thompson did her best to instruct me in deciphering it. I’m also glad that my life has played out in such a delightfully messy way, leaving me better able to appraise and value that which is good. I can’t say that I always enjoy being schooled; but it really is an education.