Seems like another book: re-reading novels in time


I once heard someone say something as wise as ‘reading books when you’re older makes you see them in a completely different way‘. Ever since, I could not help but wonder how truthful that statement was. One of the truest examples for me was with “The Great Gatsby“. Not only had I just started University when I first read this masterpiece by F. Scott Fitzgerald, but I was not open to all the shades it implies, the historical context, the deeper meaning behind the actions.
I didn’t, and never passed, the Anglo-American Literature course when I had to explain what the novel itself stood for: “what does the green light represent?” I was asked. I think I said “the American dream, the land of hope, shiny but distant” or something along those lines. The teacher wasn’t pleased: was it that she was not interested in her students’ personal interpretations or was I too vague? I still wonder. But I now think the green light was also a metaphor for his love for Daisy: almost unreal and difficult to match his idealistic love with the person she turned out to be. But that interpretation came afterwards and I tend to think it is due to me growing up. Had I written a paper on this novel, I would probably judge my views as naive or not deep enough.

I am also quite convinced that in ten years time I could go back to the books on my shelf and find out I see them in a different light. Metaphors are often very difficult to grasp, especially in very elaborated plots, which means one must go through a great deal of analysis and interpretations before being able to see what things possibly stand for. Cryptic works are often just created in order to keep people guessing over time, one of James Joyce‘s greatest devices which he implied in his obscure narrative of “Ulysses“.

Yet, it is no surprise that people might see things differently in time. Nobody really stays the same all the time. One might be sure not to have changed a thing over the years, but it cannot be true. We all change. In fact, when I first read “The Great Gatsby” I was not as enchanted as I am today. Now, I know more about the 1920s, about the society of that time, and I can go back to that novel knowing exactly what goes on. The interpretation of the characters, however, is an infinite experience. We will always tend to find details we didn’t notice, see things in a new light, hate what we first loved, love what we first hated.

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14 thoughts on “Seems like another book: re-reading novels in time

  1. So true… I have gone back, 10 sometimes 20 years later, to books that I didn’t like and had stopped reading only to find them thoroughly enjoyable and thought “why didn’t I like it” the first time round? Your post answers this – because we change and start to look at things “in context”!

  2. This is very true. Some of the adult books I read in school were just that little bit beyond my grasp. I didn’t fully understand Shakespeare for example, without the teacher explaining each scene. Shakespeare is much more enjoyable now that I can understand what I am reading, and even in some ways, relate to it.
    Great post :-)

    • That’s true. That reminds me of my school books. I am always like “how could I not care about this” or “how did I overlook that”… because I could not appreciate things back then. Which is a pity! But here we are to rescue our past selves!

  3. I recently reread Anna Karenina (I’m nearly 50 now) after reading it as a teenager. Back then I felt for her..the pain of the love affair, the separation from her son by her cold husband, the whole star-crossed lovers thing… This time her husband seemed entirely reasonable to me- why should she have the child when she has run off with another man?… Might as well have been a different book..!

    • True. It depends on how we see things now aswell. I mean, there is no objectivity in time, only subjectivity. I think, growing up, one learns there are so many shades in between black and white!

  4. Very wise! In truth, I need to reread all the good stuff I read decades ago if I really want to do them some degree of justice! There is something to be said for age and experience, after all. :)

    • Yes, you’re right! We miss out a lot on the details and on the architecture of a novel if you ask me. We just go with the flow when we’re younger, but we tend to see how it all came together when we’re older and the purpose of things aswell.

  5. There are the books I liked and revisit for the pleasure of refreshing my memory of them and finding new details. Then there are the books I couldn’t get into the first time around. Personally, experience in reading counts just as much as life experience for both types of revisits. The more I read, the more I can see of the architecture of stories and understand the way the language is used.

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