Sunday, April 17, 2011

Rereading Sense and Nonsense

Not constantly, bur fairly consistently, I like to reread. Sometimes it's the usual suspects: To Kill a Mockingbird, Pride & Prejudice, yadda yadda English Major delights. Lately, it's been works I rarely go back to, but which I've been nudged towards by other texts. When I go back to these past loves, I'm invariably assaulted by sensory data from the time and place I fell for the text to start with. On top of that are the new takeaways that an intervening 5 or 15 or 30 years of life add to my reading. So:

The Secret GardenFrances Hodgsen Burnett's The Secret Garden. I saw it on a list of award winners from the past, or a 100 Books quiz on Facebook, or some such fleeting internet blip. This is a novel I was devoted to in my tweendom, and though it struck me as a little quaint now - in a world of YA literature that is so much vaster than that of my youth - I enjoyed reliving it. Mostly, I kept picturing my - our - old copy. It had a hard green cover with a pasted-on picture instead of a proper dust cover, and for whatever reason it lived on the bookcase that was just outside of my older brother's bedroom door. (With the four of us kids in the house, most of the literature ended up living in the public bookcases instead of in our own rooms. Especially the books my sister and I both read - we're only 14 months apart and, well, we tended to get possessive. I had my own treasured set of The Chronicles of Narnia, and it probably still has the gift tag from when my godmother gave it to me stuck to the top of the box, to prove that they were MINE, damnit. I'd learned well from the Debacle of the Little House Series.) Given the "bookcases in every room of the house" life I lead now, it seems too strange to me that I didn't actually have book shelves in my room growing up - I kept a few on my closet shelf, and tons, of course, piled bedside, but most books ended up in the central room we called the study. Older brother was the only one with bookcases of his own, so if you wanted to Choose Your Own Adventure, go off-planet, or check up on Alfred E. Neuman, you had to apply to him.

A Tale of Two Cities (Penguin Hardback Classics)Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities. It was the best of times, and so on. After Jennifer Donnelly's Revolution I wanted to spend a little more time in embattled France. As one does. (I also pulled out the soundtrack to Les Mis recently, and the 11 year old is unexpectedly quite taken with the story - I've narrated him through almost half of it now. Soon the barricades will arise!) Anyway, I don't remember when I first read ATOTC - probably high school - but every time I think about it now, it's the edition in my mother-in-law's house. One rainy, jet-lagged afternoon in Dublin, I picked this out of a matching leather-bound set, curled up under the duvet with a cup of tea, and just bonded with this book. I'd somehow never realized before then that Dickens is hilarious. And keen. And devastating. I listened to it on audio this time, which led to many moments of surreptitious tear-wiping at work, and finally ("...a far, far better rest I go to....") all-out sobbing one afternoon. (This does not at all debunk my claim that I can do most of my job while listening to audiobooks. Hush.)

Julius Caesar (Folger Shakespeare Library)William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar. After Stacy Schiff's Cleopatra: A Life, I was planning to re-read Anthony and Cleopatra, but got sidetracked with old Anthony's first Shakespearean run instead. (It's also referred to in Schiff's biography, but obviously less often.) This play I definitely first read in high school - a couple of the books on those study bookshelves were Shakespeare's complete plays, and that kept me happy one hot summer. (No, wait, I was a social butterfly! Hardly ever at home, and when I was, I was thinking of new ways to style my hair!) My English class read Julius Caesar, as well, and since I was taking Latin at the same time (oh, I mean - um - volleyball! Yeah, I was one of the cool jock girls and also everyone imitated my very stylish mode of dress!) I loved all of the Ides of March, et tu stuff. I believe this was the first time I really got the point of delving deeper into the text, understanding the context, and subtext, and, I don't know, protext and intertext and supertext et al. (See? Latin!) It was quite the little intellectual awakening, and I owe it all to Caius Cassius and his crew. Still, I never felt sorry for Anthony before this time. He just seemed so alone, even in the midst of the crowd of Friends, Romans, and Countrymen. I suppose it was knowing what all would happen with Octavius that cast the pall.
A Midsummer Night's Dream (Wordsworth Classics)While I was being all Shakespearian, and since it was recommended for the Sandman: Dream Country book club (first discussion this Thursday - you're not too late to join in), I also went back to A Midsummer Night's Dream. This one, despite the Summer of Shakespeare, I wasn't really mindful of until Robert and I saw some friends in a production in the park when we were dating. It was getting on towards Midsummer, and it was dreamy, and fun, and to my Visiting American Student self, an extremely English thing to be doing. I was a passionate young soul, in love with being In Love, and Literary, and Artistic, and Experiencing the Freedom of Living Far from Home (and Ignorant of the Fact that I would Proceed to Spend the Next Twenty would Attend the Same High School where I Learned Latin....) So - long live Puck, is what I'm getting at here. The eternal trickster, but always good to hang out with, if only to see how far you've gone (emotionally if not geographically) since childhood.

1 comment:

  1. Only 77 books read in the first quarter--you SLACKER; I have read upwards of 11!