Returning to the Scene of the Crime

dh lawrence

We readers play by certain rules. Some happily abandon books that don’t interest them after (fill in the blank) pages, others plow on to the end no matter what. Some only read the genres they love like comfort food on a cold winter’s night, others force themselves to sample a wider variety of styles. And some refuse to go back and reread a book they cherished as a child or teen, while others venture where angels fear to tread.

I thought of this recently while reading a review of D. H. Lawrence’s Women in Love. As a teenager, I thought Lawrence was great stuff and read a bunch of his books. He lived on the edge, it seemed, where sexuality was always under the surface of his characters’ lives (and, in some cases, out in the open). To an adolescent of literary bent, what could be better than that?

Now, however, questions abound. Was my reading pleasure more about Lawrence’s talent or more about me, age 14? There is one way to find out: reread one of his books as an adult, umpteen decades later. As is true with many things, there is an argument for and against such a decision.

For: I might find something new in Lawrence’s book, something I could not possibly have noticed or enjoyed in my callow youth with half the brain I claim to operate now.

Against: I might destroy another icon of my youth. You know, read it and wonder what was wrong with this punk reader. It’s almost a bullying scenario–the seasoned reader scoffing at the little guy, dismissing his “reader’s perspective” as unworthy, as laughable even. And just like that, a happy memory from the 70s would become a relic of history. No trace left. Just the hint of a smoldering foundation, maybe.

Although I don’t do it often, I have reread a few childhood icons with good results. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, for instance. I first read it as an adventure tale with slow stretches. Many decades later I came back, catching all the racial nuances and controversies (though the last half of the book didn’t hold up as much as the first).

Then there’s The Catcher in the Rye. I thought for sure this old chestnut, with it abuse of the word of the word “phony,” would burn in the fires of cynicism, especially given the fraught character of Holden, a kid many modern teens dismiss as “a whiner.”

But the center held. I appreciated Salinger’s choice of New York City, of the Christmas season, for his commentary on what Twain might have called “the damned human race.” I even forgave him the precociousness of little sister Phoebe. Precocious characters and I are a bad mix, typically, but if ever a character needed a foil, it would be Holden Caulfield.

So, it’s a draw. A book-by-book decision. To reread or not? Maybe the bottom line is yes and no. Reread some and keep others as souvenirs of the lad I once was. Memory plays tricks, yes, and often sifts out the bad–but no harm, no foul, right?

Every childhood deserves a museum with a few precious artifacts behind glass or a red felt rope.

 

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13 thoughts on “Returning to the Scene of the Crime

  1. Perhaps I was a failed teen reader. I’m much more likely to return to books I SHOULD have read as a teen – Uncle Tom’s Cabin, A Separate Peace – but didn’t.

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  2. If used as a metaphor, “returning to the scene of the crime” seems strange to me, probably requiring a time machine. It has a lot of loose ends. Are you returning in your mind or physically and in deed or as observer? Is it facetious or actual? etc. Perhaps you want to remember it or return in an emotional capacity like happily or regretfully. It requires too much accompanying explanation to cypher especially the elusiveness of “crime” like this sentence was.

    Where did it come from? 🙂

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  3. I never read ‘Catcher in the Rye’ I’ll be lucky to find a copy of ‘Catcher’ in the library. Oldies but goodies are usually kept under lock and key.
    I loved the series on Mars by the author of Tarzan. I re-read them a couple of years ago and they were Crap! What’s the mans name? I am getting so tired of losing my memory just when I need to use it! You shouldn’t re-read the loves of your childhood.You will be sorry you did.
    I read ‘To kill a Mockingbird’ for the first time, in 2006. absolutely loved it. I read ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ and ‘Moby Dick’ in my early teens and was disappointed with both. Maybe I’ll try them again…..

    Gabi

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  4. So, did you re-read Lawrence? Sons and Lovers had completely grabbed me in my youth, but not sure how I would like it now. As also The Tin Drum. I am scared to go back to it, but would like to. To Kill A Mockingbird I have read several times and I discovered things that I missed or did not pay enough attention to, every time I went back.

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    • I have not reread Lawrence. I can rationalize a lot, given the pile of TBR books in my bedside table’s well!

      And funny you bring up TKAM. I haven’t read it since I had to in high school. Thing is, I wasn’t wild about it then. I’m in the minority in that opinion, I know.

      Is it a snow day in India, too?

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  5. Some books like TKAM are different every time you re-read them because society is in flux. Some things that go around come around again and that is why throwing out old books is not a good thing. We can’t re-learn or un-learn the past if we don’t remember what it was. Farenheit 451 was a favorite although since it is science fiction is only organic when it is re-read today.

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