I very much enjoyed (and sympathized with) this essay in the New York Times Book Review about having passed over the classics, only to pick them up in one’s mid-twenties. This, of course, is my current quest. I’m on a stop-start ride through Oliver Twist, which I love. Dickens is incredibly dry and sarcastic, which I find enthralling in ways that would have only confused me as a seventeen-year-old. I’m sure a lot of it would have flown over my head, especially if I had been in the midst of reading to a certain page for a class assignment. The descriptions are nuanced and gritty; I’m grateful not to be a street vagabond in Victorian London.
The writer of “I was a Teenage Illiterate”, Cathleen Schine, comes by her “illiteracy” not by means of inability to read but rather a close-mindedness in her adolescence. As she writes of her high school reading days,
I also wrote a paper on existential despair in “Crime and Punishment,” “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter” (assigned to the class) and (my one foray into contemporary American literature) “Portnoy’s Complaint.” Look, I didn’t say I wasn’t pretentious; I said I wasn’t well read.
It’s a fortunate thing indeed to pick up great literature when you’re in the mindset to value it for what it is, not for what you have to pick out in order to do well on a quiz or write a paper. I’ll be back on Oliver once I’ve finished. Right now, reader, I’m enchanted.