ILLUMINATION
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ILLUMINATION

7 Books I Read in High School that I Want to Read Again Now That I’m Older

Photo by Eliott Reyna on Unsplash

I feel for high school English teachers. I really do. I have always loved reading. All through elementary and middle school, I gobbled up every book in the library, every book assigned. I raced through books like Number the Stars and The Giver and Bridge to Terabithia.

It’s great that I gained a love of reading so young. Many of my classmates hated those books. And then we got to high school. I still loved to read, but a lot of the fun was gone. The purpose seemed to be to learn these predetermined themes so that we could get the correct answers on the test, so that we could know all of the buzzwords to include in our written responses.

We were also at the age where we argued with everything. All themes seemed simplistic, unrealistic, stupid (my high school age words, not my words now!). Other times, I loved a book only to now realize that the most important lessons of that story probably flew right over my head.

It’s so important that students be exposed to a diverse collection of important literature early on. However, now that I am older, there are certain books I seek to re-read because I know that I will appreciate them even more now that I am wiser and more experienced. Here is my list:

The Awakening, Kate Chopin

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I had to read this book my sophomore year in high school, and I cringe at how I didn’t appreciate it at the time. The Awakening describes a wealthy wife and mother’s gradual discovery of her independence and sexuality. The attitude of my class was basically that the protagonist just got tired of her responsibilities and decided to check out. We judged harshly her infidelity, claimed that she abandoned her children, and didn’t fail to point out the fact that she was rich so shouldn’t really be complaining.

Now that I am an adult, I realize the gravity of living in a life that is not yours, that you cannot enjoy, and having no freedom or independence to feel that you can make your own choices. I realize how the protagonist was affected by the expectations of society and of her family, and how she was never given a chance to feel free and live life on her own terms. Having children and a marriage should not be a prison sentence. Now that I am older, I realize how ignorantly idealistic my class sounded when criticizing this novel. This book is on the top of my “to re-read” list.

Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy

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This book was on my summer reading list one year, and I remember just not getting into it. I struggled with Victorian writing when I was a kid, and it was long, and boring, and I just didn’t understand why every classic novel I had to read about a girl involved her falling in love and marrying someone.

Although I still think I have a valid point there, I now realize that this book has a crazy, juicy plot and that I should jump right into it the next time I visit the beach. There are so many twists and turns that at the time I thought were nonsensical and unrealistic. Now, I realize that was my harsh teenage brain and I should have just shut that up and enjoyed the book in the first place.

Tess of the d’Urbervilles begins with a young girl sent off to find her fortune and save her family, but as it follows her through young adulthood it also takes a harsh look at the limited options available to women at that time, and the double standard faced by women when it comes to their sexuality. It is definitely worth a re-read.

The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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I enjoyed this book a lot when I had to read it in school, but I want to read it again to truly get everything I can out of this novel. This book is widely cherished, and I know that my adult self will love it the second time around as well.

This novel follows the story of a planet-traveling prince who lives on an asteroid. The little prince meets many characters along the way that cast intricate portrayals of adults in society and critiques what we tend to think is important in life. Now that I am an adult, I live in a world where the things that take up our time and attention are never the things that are ultimately the most important. We all need a reminder of that sometimes.

Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston

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I confess, I did already re-read this as an adult. But if I hadn’t, it would totally be on the list! This one absolutely needs re-reading and was so sad to me the second time around. I loved it and it was sad before, but I was a prickly teenager who didn’t show my feelings, whereas now I cry during car insurance commercials.

The reason this book means so much to me now is because of the relationships that Janie, the protagonist, has with the men in her life. It means so much more to me now to watch her escape her life with Joe Starks to live with a man she truly loves. It was heartbreaking to me when she then loses him at the end of the novel. I have so much respect for Janie as a character because of the hardship that she has endured throughout the novel. This is a novel that spans several decades and does a fantastic job of portraying the development of characters over time.

Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller

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I remember really enjoying this play in high school. In general, I liked reading plays because they seemed to go a little faster and the dialogue was pretty straightforward. If I were to re-read this today, however, I would find myself much more deeply immersed in the themes of the story.

This story focuses on a family struggling with poverty and disappointment. The protagonist is Willy, a salesman who slips in and out of daydreams about his past to a time when he was still proud of his children and when he still hadn’t lost all hope. This story is a testament to the difficulties of the American dream and to the struggle that is breaking the cycle of poverty that surrounds so many families.

This story can be darkly humorous at times, and Miller’s characters are rich and dynamic. I love the juxtaposition between past and present, and the desperation that ends Willy’s life is heartbreaking. This would be a great one to re-read or to see performed in person.

1984, George Orwell

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This one is kind of a gimme, and one that has topped all kinds of re-read lists over the past few years. When I read this in high school, I was not aware of the world as I am now. This novel did not instill a chilling warning about power and governmental oversight into our lives like it would now. At the time, those things seemed utterly ridiculous to me and something that would never be able to happen.

What was missing at the time was knowing how something like that could happen, how people could be brainwashed by ideals and led to willingly give up their freedoms until it is too late. If I read this book now, I would be struck by how closely some parts of it resemble the fears that we all now have about our world.

Hard Times, Charles Dickens

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I enjoyed this book too, and at the time, I definitely understood that the themes of the novel dealt with industrialization and dehumanization, with self-interest and an idea that money is power and is above all other concerns. I loved this book and the lessons taught by it, but once again, as an adult, I just know that I could glean so much more out of this novel simply by paying more attention to the development of the characters.

In school, it was so important to learn theme that I often failed to recognize character development the way that I do now. Maybe that is because I have experienced my own character developing over time. I know the ways that my past experiences have influenced the direction of my life, and I see it in others too.

This novel follows the story of the Gradgrind family. Thomas is a wealthy merchant who attempts to teach his children to follow his practical and industrious lifestyle, but spoiler alert, it ends up ruining them in the end and they aren’t very happy. When I re-read this novel, it will be to pay extra special attention to the conflicts of characters as they fight against their own happiness to live instead in the way that they are taught is best.

The Takeaway:

One of the things I love to do in my free time is to flip back through old literature textbooks and read some of the poems that first made me fall in love with poetry. The same can apply for novels. Literature is so rich and intricate that there is something to be gained with every reading of a piece.

We all have books in our past that deserve a second chance. I plan to try some of these out this summer, like spending an afternoon with a long-lost friend.

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