The other day, while looking through a bookstore, a friend told me that they hadn’t been able to so much as think about picking up a book by Ernest Hemingway after a particularly terrible experience trying to read the author’s In Our Time back in high school. They weren’t sure whether their teacher presented the book especially poorly, or whether, at 16 years old, it simply wasn’t the right time in their life for Hemingway’s tough little book of stories. All they could tell me was that the encounter had been traumatic enough to keep them from going near the “H” section of the fiction shelves ever since.
Of course, my friend’s story isn’t all that uncommon. Plenty of people have had books ruined for them forever because of clumsy or inopportune initial meetings. Books, not being able to speak up for themselves, can’t easily recover from bad first impressions.
And so I’ve decided to start a Twitter campaign on behalf of all those classics that have been – and still continue to be – sullied by a sloppy middle school or high school encounter. While I recognize that there isn’t necessarily something for everyone in every single book, the fact is that we’re given the books we are in school because, well, they’re generally considered to be pretty awesome. Also, while I value the idea of a literary canon and the classics that make it up, I recognize, too, that some high school reading lists are staid, stuffy, and narrow. In that spirit, I will tweet (and hope others will tweet) about books that belong in classrooms, yet aren’t there, novels that I wish every human being would at some point sit down and read.
I’m using the hashtag #rereadable, an intentionally general adjective to describe any book that deserves a second, perhaps closer, look. My hope is that we can together alter the reputation of some of these “tainted” books – our classics, both old and new – and maybe encourage some readers to go back and pick up one that they for whatever reason ignored, breezed through, or even downright despised.
A great book is a rereadable one – a book whose pages, however many times they’re read through, continue to offer you more.
. . .
Below are a few example tweets. It goes:
TITLE, Author – reason why the book is rereadable.
IN OUR TIME, Ernest Hemingway – to see the astounding capabilities of simple, straightforward language. #rereadable
GREAT EXPECTATIONS, Charles Dickens – b/c no one can make you laugh, cry, think, hurt, and love quite like Dickens. #rereadable
A WRINKLE IN TIME, Madeleine L’Engle – to find out why, as a kid, it blew your mind. #rereadable
THE WESTING GAME, Ellen Raskin – b/c it’s a smart, fun, puzzle of a murder mystery, full of quirky yet real-to-life characters. #rereadable
THE GREAT GATSBY, F. Scott Fitzgerald – b/c no matter how over-the-top a movie version, it can’t hold a candle to this prose. #rereadable
Spread the word, and speak up for the books that have, somewhere or other – or at least according to one person – picked up a crappy reputation. Even if you only change that one person’s mind, and get them going back to a book they never thought they would, it’s worth it.