I saw an indie film last week with a friend. She hated the film while I was enchanted. Normally, we agree on films and books and theatre. This week the same friend took me to a screening of a film that I had heard was good. I struggled to stay in my seat I was so bored with it, and was surprised that she found it completely engaging. We talked about our expectations and disappointments and wondered what was going on that we had such diverse reactions.
It has often struck me that our expectations play a large roll in how we are affected by books, movies, etc. If we have been given great recommendations by friends, or read rave reviews, then we are set up for wanting too much. Our imaginations are soaring with beautiful images and we can almost feel how it will be to experience the actual thing — the page-turner! the not-to-be-missed mega hit! the once-in-a-lifetime experience! How can we not be disappointed?
On the other hand, we also bring to a book or movie our moods of the moment, our bad-hair-day, our boss-yelled-at-us-day, our family/lover/friend- issue-of-the-day-day right into the theatre with us. Curled in a chair with our book, it’s there — a sweater knit of melancholy and gloom across our shoulders not to be shrugged off by the mere act of reading a book but penetrating our perception of the book, perhaps changing how we feel about it. There is no way for any of us to know for sure if and how we are affected by emotions and how those emotions change how we feel about a piece of entertainment. I do know for certain, however, that when I see a movie more than once I may have an entirely different take on it the second time, or when I re-read books I find that I sometimes have an opposite opinion of it on the second reading. It could be simply that the second reading or viewing takes place a few years later and I have changed my outlook on things in general so I would naturally have an altered feeling about it. Or, perhaps it means that I am bringing moods to the experience and that is what is altered. When I read The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand back in the 60’s I was thrilled by the story of the heroic architect willing to destroy his own brilliant building rather than compromise his creative vision. Wow! In my naivete I found this terribly idealistic and appealing. Re-reading the book in the 80’s I couldn’t help feeling a sense of unease regarding the author’s pronouncements for the individual above all else. Her disdain for the “masses” or any collective of society is clearly part of her elitist message and not anything that I can, or even want to, sympathize with.
One of my favorite Edith Wharton novels is the little known A Mother’s Recompense. I found it so interesting when I first read it — a mother who walks away from a wealthy husband and her own little daughter only to come back into the daughter’s life when the daughter is engaged to be married. There are twists and turns in their relationship as they try to become reacquainted, complicated by the fact that they are both in love with the same man. When I read it again ten years later I was less interested in the melodrama and far more fascinated by the daughter’s forgiveness of her mother’s abandonment and the mother’s sacrifice for her daughter’s happiness.
I don’t know if I brought different emotions to the re-readings or whether I was bringing new perspectives based on more experience in life. It will remain a mystery to me. But I do urge readers to re-visit books after several years and see what has changed. Beside what you find unexplored in the book, you’ll surly find plenty new about yourself.
4 responses to “But… I thought I liked that book…”
I agree with your comments and questions about re-reading a loved book, or seeing a film after a long time and sometimes wondering why they were memorable to me. I have always said my favorite book ever was Lorna Doone, which I read in 7th grade. It was on our book shelf in class, and I didn’t know anything about it. What was it about that book that was so meaningful to me that it continued to hold its place in my memory. I recently borrowed it from the library, and glancing through it now see that it is a love story about two young adults kept apart by family feuds. It was the book I thought of as my first “grown up” book, and I never read another Grimms Fairy Tale after that, but I was off and running with my reading. By the way, I just ordered a used copy of Lorna Doone from Amazon just to have it on my shelves. Always find your writing interesting and evocative.
I love your blog posts! Thank you brilliant writer you!
For me the true meaning of a classic is a book that continues to enchant me on re-reading, rarely in the same way because I have changed, but there are layers of meaning for different stages in my life.
I remember looking at Fountainhead in a bookstore and another customer came up and said “the time to read that book is in college, when you’re older, it’s silly.”
Kim, somehow Fountainhead is always the go-to example for this. Every well-read person seems to have a story about it. I was in ninth grade when my history teacher, who never let pass an opportunity to let me know how full of it I was, told me it was too soon for me to read it but also not to wait too long. That made me want to read it even more, of course. Not long after I’d read every single thing that woman had published and was a member of the Objectivism Institute, or whatever they call it now. If only I’d listened to him and read it a year or two after…