I was rummaging through the shelves of National Book Store Cubao—a book Mecca, and arguably the best branch of the Philippines’ leading bookstore chain—when I chanced upon a book with a pretty cover. It was a sepia-toned photo of a glamorous woman lying on a fainting couch, smiling at a man wearing a suit and with a cocktail in his hand.
I don’t know about you, but I have judged a lot of books by their covers (call me shallow), and this one was really pretty.
Then I realized that I have read this novel—twice!
It was The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. (Yes, the book where that musical extravaganza of a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio was based on.)
Unfortunately, uh, I didn’t like it.
Before you raise your pitchforks, storm my house and call me “heathen,” or “unrefined” or “person with a pedestrian taste” (which would be a mouthful so I suggest you pick another word or phrase), let me just say that I actually bought the book and plan to read it again starting today.
You see, I have this theory about giving books, especially those you didn’t like, a second chance. Of course, this isn’t a universal rule that can be applied to all books. Some books are, sadly, irredeemable.
But one thing I learned is that books take on a new meaning depending on the age of the reader. What you read when you were 11 will affect you differently when you read it again at 16 or 21 or 34. Your experiences and understanding of people, life, and the world when you were a kid are vastly different from what you know now.
With age comes maturity – we’ve heard that said a lot when we were growing up, and I find it’s true as well when it comes to reading books.
In my case, one book that made a bad impression on me when I first read it, but has now become one of my favorite novels of all time, is Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.
You know that movie You’ve Got Mail, starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan? Meg’s character said her favorite book was P&P and that whenever she reads it, she gets “lost in the language, words like thither, mischance, felicity.” When I first read Austen’s masterpiece at 17, I not only got “lost” in the words, I got sleepy, too. It was boring! And the characters were annoying. I remember it being such a trial to read.
But after a few years, I gave it another chance. I think I devoured the whole thing in one go. It was, so to speak, ‘unputdownable.’ I never realized how beautiful it was and how funny a writer Austen is.
I have reread P&P numerous times since and I still find surprising nuggets of wisdom, or bits of humor, every single time.
Books are like people, in that sense. When you give them a second chance, more often than not, they can surprise you. ☁