Second Reading

May 5, 2010

In the past few months, I re-read two books that made big impressions upon me as an adolescent: Catcher in the Rye and Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl. I had been wanting to read both of them again and finally got around to it. Now I kind of wish I hadn't. I remembered feeling such a strong connection to Holden and to Anne. Despite the significant differences in time and setting, their voices and their views of the world felt very similar to mine at the time. The young adult lit world wasn't the busy place it is today and in the classroom setting we mostly stuck to the classics, which is another reason I think these two books stood out for me. They were books that everyone read which meant the classroom discussions were much more lively. Yes, I was an English geek and I loved when I was not the only one who read the book.

So it is now twenty years later and I am a stay-at-home mother of two who decided it would be interesting to return to Anne's and Holden's worlds. But it was different. This time around Holden drove me crazy with his adolescent antics. Very impressive writing on Salinger's part, but I had to force myself to finish reading it. By the time I finished reading it, I didn't want to think about it any more so I didn't even take part in the discussion with my on-line book club.I was so let down. I had remembered Holden in such a fond a spunky, rebellious, but sympathetic guy. Not anymore. I think my mama lens is too thick right now. I am dreading the day my sweet little Noah morphs into some version of Holden, but as I was reading I had to acknowledge that Noah is now closer in age to Holden than I am. That put a damper on things. Wish I could say it didn't, but it did.

And then there was Anne. How did I overlook all of her critical commentary, especially regarding her mother? And how did I forget her frank discussions of sex and her changing body? Well, it turns out I didn't. It turns out that the version I read in 8th grade was the version that was printed under her father's watchful eye. He carefully edited out those judgmental or uncomfortable sections and they didn't make an appearance in print until after his death in 1980. I don't know what version kids read in school these days, but it almost felt like two different books to me. Once again, I am sure my current status as mother, a Jewish mother, was playing into my second reading of the book. I had much more empathy for Anne's parents than I ever did when I read it for the first time.

Anne did not drive me nearly as crazy as Holden did, but I wasn't quite as taken with her as I remembered being the first time. Instead of feeling a strong connection to her, I felt a greater sense of awe and gratitude with this second reading. Especially after visiting The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam for the second time. Just like the book, things have changed a bit with the house, too. Since my first visit to the house in 1994, the house has been gussied up quite a bit with interactive displays, photographs, and moving interviews with those who helped the Frank family, with some of Anne's friends, and even with her father. It is very well-done (including the ease of being able to buy advance tickets on-line, highly recommend that option). Unlike my second reading of the diary, my second visit to the house had a much greater impact.

I think the additional displays contributed to that, but beyond that I now carry the weight of knowing my children could easily have been exterminated just as Anne was. I didn't have that same weight on my shoulders or in my heart when I read the diary and visited the house for the first time. I was sad, I was horrified, but I wasn't nearly as connected to the Holocaust experience as I am now. And that's why am grateful and in awe of what one adolescent, Jewish girl was able to accomplish with her plaid diary. Part of me wishes I hadn't re-read it because I didn't want to see the whiny, critical teen-aged side of her, but after re-visiting the house I am glad I re-read it and in it's full text. She was who she was and thankfully her diary was saved as a record of her voice and her experience. It was nearly 9 pm on a Sunday night as we made our way through their hiding place, there was a long line of people waiting to get in and we were surrounded by people of all ages, ethnic backgrounds, and faiths. Pretty powerful to see that after all these years, a teen-ager's words continue to make such an impact on so many around the world.

So, do kids still read "Catcher in the Rye" and "Anne Frank" in school? I don't think I am up for a third reading of these two books any time soon, but that's because I'll be too busy trying to maintain this current state of denial that my two monkeys will ever be teen-agers.
morninglight mama said...

Such interesting commentary here, Lucia. It was interesting for me, too, to get into Holden's mind again, and my perspective as a mom changed the effect. I read Anne Frank when I was in school, so I must have read the 'censored' version, although I have to admit that I never realized there was an unedited version!

I love hearing about how individuals relate and react to particular books, and I so respect your perspective.

Nancy said...

As I read your post, I wondered if you were reading the newest edition of her diary, with all the parts her dad left out. I own it, but haven't brought myself to read it, in part for the reasons you describe.

I'm most amazed that someone that young had such an incredible command of language. It's mind-blowing, really.

On a sad note, I read recently (as you may have) that "her" tree is dying--
but evidently they've been collecting chestnuts from the tree to grow as saplings~

likeschocolate said...

Yes, they are still reading these books. I never liked holden. I thought he was a jerk even from my teenage perspective. However, when you look at both Anne and Holden they are just typical teenagers trying to find their identies. Trying to forge a place in this world on their own terms. Sadly it is normal. My oldest child has always been very independant and opionated. While it drives me crazy and does not make my life easy. I know I will never have to worry about him because he will hold his own in the world even more so than my other two children who are much more obedient. Anne being critical of her mother is just lack of experience and understanding that only comes from growing up. Unfortunately, she never had the chance. I had a very similar response to the Twilight books. I read them to see what all the frenzy was about. The main character Bella drove me crazy, but then when I went back in my memory of what it was like to be a teenager. I understood her.

Dim Sum, Bagels, and Crawfish said...

I think that was the most surprising aspect of reading them again...sometimes high school feels like it was just yesterday, but really it wasn't and I am (most of the time :) pretty far removed from the adolescent stage of life. It was weird to read them through my current lens of a mom to two young kids. I felt like such an old fogey! But you are right, they are both normal teenagers which is why I think Anne and Holden will continue to be timeless reads.

Dana said...

Yes. They are still being used. I don't think that they are such a strong element of the high school curriculum any longer, but I see teachers who still select them from time to time. I tried once to teach using Catcher in the Rye & just could never bring myself to do it again . . . much for the same reasons you mention: Holden. A much more popular Holocaust experience book these days (at the high school level) is Weisel's Night -- from AP classes to lowly ninth grade English. It is also one that most kids actually read. The Hiding Place is also popular.
Have a great day!

Dim Sum, Bagels, and Crawfish said...

Dana, interesting to hear what is being read these days...thanks for the librarian input. The Hiding Place has been on my reading list for awhile and Night is one of those books I'd like to re-read again.

I had one more thought regarding this whole re-reading business. It kind of felt like pulling back a page on myself. Like finding my own old journal entries and feeling embarassed by how emotional or over-reactive I was. I have such strong memories of feeling tied to Anne and Holden, that when I read them again I had to acknowledge that yes, I was also a whiny, over-sensitive, selfish,and critical teen-ager. Actually I am still those things as an adult, too but I work hard not to be. Guess I don't like being reminded of that :)

Emily said...

This is such an interesting post, Lucia, especially since I just finished re-reading Anne Frank's diary last night. Oddly, I felt MORE drawn to Anne this time. I didn't relate to her, adolescent to adolescent, but I felt more like she was a real person, a child, and her suffering affected me more deeply. I think re-reading it and noticing all the realizations I've made since I was 15 brought the fact that she was murdered into sharp focus. She never had the chance to realize (or not) that she was being too hard on her mother because she never go the chance to move forward.

I don't want to ramble in your comments, but I'm glad to know you re-read it too. It's been on my mind a lot lately, and I was interested to hear your thoughts. Thanks!

LindyLouMac said...

Over here via Emily's post and will certainly be here on a regular basis from now on. Thankyou Emily.

I read both these books more years ago than I care to remember. Maybe I should get hold of the new edition of Anne Franks Diary and see if like you youngsters age brings with it a different perspective.

Francesca said...

My elder boy just turned 13, and our first few days with a teenager have been pretty uneventful:) He read Anne Frank for school this winter and was somewhat turned off by the parts about sexuality which in his view were too long and prominent: it totally surprised me because I didn't remember them at all. Now, after reading your post, I understand why.

Mom2Isabel said...

A timely post. I just received the following email from our guidence department (which makes me realize how lacking my own high school experience was):

"The list below is what students and parents see on the website. Please look over your department's readings and/or assignments. If any of it is wrong, please let me know. If I don't hear, I'll assume that it is correct. Thanks."

[Warning: Long list of books below]

9TH Grade - Required Reading

English I (Honors and Pre-IB)
A Raisin in the Sun (AS) - Hansberry

9th Grade - Recommended Reading
Tales - Poe
The Good Earth - Buck
Rebecca - DuMaurier
The Ox-Bow Incident - Clark
The Agony and the Ecstasy - Stone
The Caine Mutiny - Wouk
The Prince and the Pauper - Twain
West Side Story - Laurents
On the Beach - Shute
The Old Man and the Sea - Hemingway

10th Grade - Required Reading

English II (Honors)
Lord of the Flies - Golding
Assignment: English II Honors
English II (Pre - IB)
The Odyssey - Homer
AP European History
A World Lit Only By Fire (AL, AS) - Manchester
Assignment: AP European History

10th Grade - Recommended Readings
1984 (AS) - Orwell
The Once and Future King - White
Wuthering Heights - E. Bronte
Jane Eyre - C. Bronte
The Human Comedy - Saroyan
Ivanhoe - Scott
Frankenstein - Shelley
Hard Times - Dickens
Pride and Prejudice - Austen
Oliver Twist - Dickens
Utopia - More
Robinson Crusoe - Defoe
Gulliver's Travels - Swift
Mythology - Hamilton
A Passage to India - Forster
War of the Worlds - Wells

11th grade - Required Reading

AP Language (Honors)
Recommended Reading:
Hunger of Memory - Richard Rodriguez
The Glass Castle - Jeannette Walls
Black Boy - Richard Wright

11th Grade - Recommended Readings
The Grapes of Wrath- Steinbeck
Native Son- Wright
Babbitt - Lewis
The Sun Also Rises - Hemingway
The Color Purple - Walker
The American - James
The American Tragedy - Dreiser
Delta Wedding - Welty
Seize the Day - Bellow
One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest - Kesey
Light in August - Faulkner
Huckleberry Finn - Twain
The Invisible Man ) - Ellison
Meridian (AL, AS) Walker
The Woman Warrior (AL, AS) - Kingston
The Way to Rainy Mountain - Momaday

12th Grade Required Readings

AP Literature (Honors)
Their Eyes Were Watching God (AS) - Hurston
How to Read Literature like a Professor - Scott Foster
Assignment: AP Literature
AP Literature (IB)
Heart of Darkness - Conrad
IB Contemporary History
The First World War Peace Settlements, 1919-1925 - Erik Goldstein
Assignment: IB ContemporaryHistory
AP Macro Economics
The Armchair Economist: Economics And Everyday Life, Landsburg (see course description for details)
AP US Government & Politics
How Washington Really Works - Peters
AP Physics
Seven Ideas that Shook the Universe - Spielberg .

Of course, y question is.... WHEN do these kids actually relax and enjoy the summer?

Dim Sum, Bagels, and Crawfish said...

I am loving all the comments and discussion. Emily, very funny timing. Interesting and nice to hear your impressions after reading it again. Francesca, you are giving me hope that the teen years won't be quite so scary :) Also, interesting to hear your son's reaction to Anne Frank. And Linda Lou, welcome! If you do read either one, please share your reaction.

I have more thoughts rumbling around on this whole topic, especially Anne so I may continue it in another post.

Dim Sum, Bagels, and Crawfish said...

Laureen, you must have commented just as I writing a comment...ciao, chica!

What a reading list. I actually want to print it out for myself. There are some on there I want to re-read,but many I haven't ever read. Thank you for sharing that list. So what's on your reading list for this summer?

LindyLouMac said...

If I can locate a copy of the unexpurgated version I will one day hopefully read The Dairy of Anne Frank again. I would of course write about my feelings, meanwhile maybe you would be interested in my book Blog?

Jocelyn said...

Oh, my. This post will have me thinking for days--'til I go get copies to reread. I loved both books as a teen and appreciate your adult perspective.

And now I'm trying to remember what year it was I went throug the Anne Frank house. Clearly, it's time to go back.

Kellie said...

Lucia, I really enjoyed the new dramatization of the Anne Frank story that aired on Masterpiece Theater. You can watch online until May 11 at

Cami said...

Wow! I totally remember those parts in Anne Frank (which I read in 9th grade). I didn't realize there were older versions with them taken out!

Yeah, sometimes rereading is dangerous. I LOVED A Wrinkle in Time as a kid, so so so much, but as an adult it just bugged me. It was my first time with Catcher, so I had a totally new experience, which I think helped.

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