Long story short: I ended up with my daughter’s Kindle, which has several novels loaded onto it for last year’s school reading. One of the books is Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut, a book I was assigned in high school and could not follow to save my life. I mean, the first time I read this novel, I had no fucking idea what was going on.
In middle age, I read it again on my daughter’s Kindle and the whole thing made perfect sense. The difference was not the Kindle. The difference was living life. My life.
Please understand that when I was younger, I was not a stupid or necessarily naïve reader. I loved the works of Walker Percy (especially Love in the Ruins). I read The World According to Garp in one sitting. I absolutely devoured Catch-22 in eighth grade (during class, hiding it from the nuns). Books by Ken Kesey made cross-country bus trips bearable. Even The Brothers Karamazov made sense.
However, certain books just mystified me as a young man: The Great Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies, The Grapes of Wrath, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Sound and the Fury, Ulysses, Lolita, and anything – anything! — written by The Bard.
Fitzgerald, Joyce, Nabokov, Shakespeare and the rest of them committed words to the page that I understood. I could read their works, but I could not place the stories in any kind of context. I read the books, spit out answers that I did not understand on tests where I received A’s (except for Faulkner), and quickly forgot about ever having picked up the books in the first place.
As I got older, I began to miss these mysterious tales. They were like the much older brother who had gone away to college before we really got to know each other. I got older, continued to read, saw some of the world, and lived a little. In a proverbial sense, I moved to the city where my older brother lived, looked him up, and started all over again. Boy, has it been worth it.
So if you are reading this, and you get a pang of longing for a book you hated in high school, don’t be ashamed to go looking for it. Initially, you might feel silly reading a “kid’s book” – especially one you had given up on — but that feeling will pass and you will be rewarded.