This time I’m finally going to discuss a couple of books I liked in high school. During middle school, I read a lot of long-running series. In high school, I put many of those aside and gravitated toward one-shot books or books from short series.
The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles
I read, discussed and wrote essays about this book for school not once, but twice, in high school and in college. It’s a good thing I fell hard for the book during my high school English class; seeing it on my college course syllabus was a welcome surprise, something I might not have felt about some other required reading books with which I never quite connected.
The plot involves a woman ostracized by society for “having relations” while unmarried to a French lieutenant who was passing through town. (Shades of The Scarlet Letter.) An engaged gentleman becomes fascinated with this mysterious woman, and he soon discovers that there is far more to her than meets the eye.
More compelling to me than the plot–which I did enjoy–was the narration. Fowles frequently breaks the fourth wall and addresses the reader about the craft of writing. He went on to write three different endings to the story! I never saw the movie, but I wonder if they filmed all three endings. I also want to know how they translated the narration, which was an essential part of the book to me. Maybe I should pick the film up.
Centennial by James A. Michener
This book wasn’t any part of my compulsory reading for school. What prompted me to pick up this massive tome (1000+ pages in my version) was the massive TV miniseries (21-ish hours total). This was a couple of decades after it first aired, but it was airing again on some cable network while I was in high school. My mom had liked it when it first aired and thought I might like it, too. She was right! I was so hooked, I even warned a friend who called me one of the days an episode was airing that I had to hang up when it started airing. And I did wind up literally hanging up (she was still talking). She called back to ask what happened, and I said, “My show is on!” and I hung up again. Ah, what a good friend I was… (She forgave me!)
I actually have minimal interest in Westerns, although I’ve watched a few. What compelled me to love this show was the unceasing drama, a saga of a fictional Colorado town that lasted generations. I found the same and more in the book, which my mom also had on hand. Luckily, I loved the show enough to make it through the first few chapters, though… Because they literally began with the formation of the earth that made up this town and continued through some pre-historic animals living there… If I’m not mistaken, it was at least 100 pages, if not more. (What was Michener’s editor thinking?! I’m guessing it was something he was known for.) I remember they pretty quickly brushed past that part in the TV series. In any case, once you get past (or skip) the pre-historic part, you get to the juicy drama, and it becomes a page-turner. I finished it pretty quickly.
I thought I might like more of Michener’s works, so I picked up a few more volumes. All of them had pre-historic first chapters… And not knowing for sure I’d love the drama within, I gave up on them. (I probably should have skipped those chapters, but I never do that!) Still, Centennial remains dear to me. I got the DVD set a few years ago, and I became hooked again and re-read the book. My well-worn copy from the 1970s will always remain on my bookshelf.