Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Literature Appreciation

My wife commented the other day about the fact that most people read great works of literature during their high school and college years. In her opinion, there has to be a certain amount of life experience that one lives through that allows you to truly appreciate some of these books, which is seldom the case in the college age readers and almost never the case in high schoolers.

Yet, how many of us get a chance to read, or re-read these works of literature as adults?


Blogger Shoshana said...

I totally agree with your wife. There are a number of works that I read or was assigned to read in high school that I hated, but when I went back later and re-read them, I loved and found a lot of meaning in. I think college should be postponed for many who would get so much more out of it later in life. I know I got so much more out of it when I went back to school in my late 20's than when I went right after high school.

January 03, 2008 8:37 AM  
Anonymous Miri said...

I also highly disagree. i read Anna Karenina for the first time when I was twelve, and it amazed and thrilled me. It's still one of my favorite books. I think life experience definitely enhances the reading experience bc you recognize more as opposed to learning about new things. but the appreciation people are capable of as young readers should not be minimized. really, the best way to do things is to read them once when you're young and again when you're older.

January 07, 2008 12:06 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...


First of all, there will always be outliers, so you have to ask yourself how many of your peers would have felt the same about Anna Karenina.

But really the issue is not that someone cannot enjoy a work like this, but the amount of "enhancement" that life experience gives you. I don't know how a 12 year old who hasn't experienced life, or marriage, or having a child can truly understand that novel. They perhaps can understand it rationally, but that is not quite the same...

January 07, 2008 7:35 AM  
Blogger Miri said...

I disagree. again. of course I've never been married or had a child. But a lot of the components in Anna Karenina are much simpler - they're about universal human emotions and human interactions. any twelve year old whose ever flirted with anyone has a certain level of understanding when it comes to Kitty's relationships with Vronsky and Levin; even the beginnings of Anna's relationship with Vronsky. I mean, what man truly understands how an adolescent girl feels the first time she falls in love? As to to the childbirth stuff, if I remember correctly, Tolstoy didn't actually take you into the labor room - he was in the outer rooms where family members have been waiting anxiously. you don't think there are a considerable amount of twelve year olds who've been through that? I could name you quite a few. and, yes I've never been threshing with Russian peasants. but the feeling that I've been sheltered my entire life from visceral real-world experiences? the need to step out of expected traditional roles and try things from an entirely foreign perspective? I can't remember a time when I didn't know what that was like.

one further point. it is my personal opinion that no one fully appreciates any book the first time they read it, not if it's a good book. the greatest works of literature need to be re-read to be fully appreciated. the craftsmanship, the nuance, the lyricism. a good book is a book you can re-read every year of your life and each time discover something new, another truth, an apt analogy, greater recognition which comes from increased life experience. if you can read a book once and be done with it, there probably wasn't much in there you didn't already know. as long as that's the case, what difference does it make how old you are the first time?

January 07, 2008 2:02 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...


good points!

January 07, 2008 2:29 PM  

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