As a senior in high school, I loathed Hamlet. I tried to erase most of those weeks from my mind, but it might have something to do with the fact that we seemed to spend a lot of time talking about blocking. (AP English- what are you going to do?) However, my favorite college class prominently featured Othello. Oh the mental illness! The political conspiracy! The tragedy! Who was Othello? And why does Hell stare out from both Desdemona and Othello’s names? I wanted to read everything of Shakespeare’s after that, and when someone with an English degree remarked the next year that all of Shakespeare’s works were about politics, I was indignant. How come now one had pointed that out to me before?
I had a similar experience with Nathaniel Hawthorne. Even though I spent an entire week out of school and sick my sophomore year of high school, I happily kept up with the assignment to read The Scarlet Letter . In fact, I couldn’t put it down. The discussion when I came back about sin, penance and the history of witch burning transfixed me. The English teacher I had that year was one of my favorites out of my entire academic career. However, when I had to read it again the next year with a considerably less skilled teacher, Hester Prynne was delusional, Roger Dimsdale was irredeemably weak and Hawthorne was unbearable. Thankfully, an American history class I had a few years later found me reading a lot of Hawthorne’s short stories and made me love him all over again. Again, might have had something to do with the fact that this class was taught by one of the best teachers I had in college who clearly thought Hawthorne was pretty cool.
No, I’m not all Hawthorne and Shakespeare. Possibly my all-time favorite author is Judith Krantz, and I’m not ashamed. There were the sweeping interviews in Vogue, the commercials on television and of course the made-for-tv movies- someone liked her, and why shouldn’t they? Her main characters were fascinating women who overcame troubled family histories and some initial bad judgment to not only survive but thrive. And yes, there was a lot of sex and romance- to me, those were bonuses. I think just about every other person who knew her name went out of their way to tell me what trash she was, but I didn’t care. If anything, the sneering made me want to read it more.
Is that childish? Probably, but it wasn’t the last time someone’s disapproval got me going. Why else would a thirteen year old pick up Lolita or twelve year old pick up The Picture of Dorian Gray ? These weren’t trash, but at one point they had been considered a little naughty. So imagine my ever-so-slight disappointment when people started telling me how much literary value those works had. Pfft.
My newest writing heroine is Agatha Christie, which is funny because while one of my early goals was to be a private detective, it was never my intention to be a mystery writer (although one of my manuscripts does have a mystery as a subplot). I tried to read one of the Poirots right before I turned fourteen, but it didn’t work for me. It’s probably only because of the very well-done series on PBS that I tried again this summer. Now I’ve got a little bit of an addiction going (what am I going to do with myself after I’ve read all of them?). Wow, was she good- skilled and flexible. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is a very different book from The Hollow , both of which are in a different style than Evil Under The Sun . If, some day, I could flow from one style to the other as easily as she did, I’d feel like I achieved something.
Who says marketing can’t inspire worthy things?