Take books, for instance.
As a teenager, I positively loved Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. I read it—devoured it—and then promptly reread it. I sighed over the plight of Rhett and Scarlett and Ashley and Melanie. I was ecstatic when I at last got a chance to see the movie. It did not disappoint.
Five years ago I decided to reread this old favorite. Big mistake. Sometimes you really can’t go home again. I could not make it beyond the first few pages because I found Scarlett so absolutely insipid!
After graduating college, I discovered—and devoured—the works of Thomas Hardy. A few years later, assigned to teach Advanced Placement English to 12th graders, I was thrilled to find a huge pile of copies of Return of the Native. That book has everything! Marvelous descriptions of setting that provide mood for the action, carefully delineated characters, a plot that parallels Greek tragedy, and enough profundity and symbolism to satisfy even the most demanding pedant. As I say: I loved that book. My students hated it.
This month I reread ROTN. Here and now I want to offer my long-suffering AP students an apology. No wonder they hated it. Ponderous language. Complex, convoluted sentences that you have to read at least twice. A proliferation of passive verbs. Obscure references to classical studies. Mind you, I still found much to “appreciate” in the book. I did not hate it and I did finish it. But I certainly understood why so many students found it tough going.
And therein lies a dilemma for teachers of literature: How do we balance “great literature” with student interests?
No. Don’t look at me for an answer!