The Scarlet Letter

… is one of my least favorite books. Don’t get me wrong – I appreciate its literary significance and the importance of the messages and themes expressed in Hawthorne’s famous novel. But – and I say this as someone who loves classic literature – it’s a downright slog to read. I’m glad that I read it, but I will never pick it up again.

I read The Scarlet Letter in 11th grade, back in 2009. And my teacher at the time had our class participate in an experiment to make us understand, to at least some degree, the trials and tribulations of the socially-condemned Hester Prynne.

We had to make a ‘letter’ and wear it around school as a brand for a day. So, if we considered our personal “flaw” or perceived “crime” to be greed, for example, we would make a “G” out of craft materials and pin it to our shirt. As a seventeen year old girl, I picked “A,” but not for adultery. It was for ‘anger.’

I was often angry in my teens, and that anger bled into and impacted several areas of my life. It caused me a lot of frustration, stress, and irritation. It was the root of many personal issues I was experiencing at the time, and vice versa. And I spent that whole day with an “A” on my shirt to announce it to the world… and really, all it did was make me angrier because friends/peers would constantly ask me, “what’s the ‘A’ for?” and it was annoying. But, I digress…

However, the lesson did, at the time, make me think about how anger was affecting my life. I have been able to let it go, per se, as I’ve grown older. And now, eleven years later, that lesson has crept back into the forefront of my mind. Anger is not what I would consider the ‘root’ of my issues now, but I might wear a different ‘A’ as a twenty-eight year old in the year 2020 – an ‘A’ for anxiety.

It might not be an obvious thing, nor does anyone make me march around town with some visible indication that I suffer from anxiety, thus allowing others to scorn me. Times have changed since the Puritan era. But I can feel that ‘A,’ burning a hole in my chest, every day. It is not visible, but I know that it is there. And, of late, it has been swallowing me. Part of it is definitely due to the state of the world at the moment, but there are also other roadblocks in my personal life that are making that “A” blaze brighter and brighter, if only on the inside. And there’s a big ol’ neon ‘D’ right beside it. It’s probably obvious what that stands for.

I am trying not to let it consume me. It’s difficult. I can feel the weight much heavier than ever before, and that creeping dread digs its fingers into my skin more often than usual. I mean, I know – I’m a basic white girl who has been afforded many opportunities in my life, so my issues are trivial in the grand scheme of things and when compared to what others are going through. This isn’t a ‘boo hoo, feel bad for me’ type post, it’s just cathartic to get it out there. And I know I’m not alone.

It does help a little to know that, even though we do not outwardly wear our own scarlet letters, everyone has at least one. And before judging others, I try to think what their own burdensome letter might be, and how it might weigh on them. Some guy cuts me off in traffic? He’s probably fighting his own battles. The person who ordered the last cake pop at Starbucks? Maybe they needed that sugar boost to get through the day more than I did. Knowing that we are not alone can make those letters feel a little smaller, even if, for some of us, they will never disappear entirely.

The ‘A’ may be heavy, but I do wear it with some measure of pride. It has not defeated me yet, nor will I let it.

Books I “Hate”

I mean… “hate” is a strong word, and it implies a whole slew of negative things, which is not my intention with this post. All of the books mentioned here are great books, most with legendary authors who have more talent in their pinkie fingers than I have in my entire body. I just didn’t enjoy reading these particular books. But “Books I Didn’t Really Like But Lots of Other People Did and for Good Reason Because They Have Significant and Enduring Literary Merit” doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, now, does it?

Also, for perspective, these are books I was assigned to read for various classes, which might have affected/skewed my overall opinion. Maybe I’ll give them another chance, someday. Probably not, but you never know.

1.) The Old Man and the SeaErnest Hemingway 
You know that scene in Silver Linings Playbook where Bradley Cooper is reading A Farewell to Arms and when he gets to the end he says “WHAT THE F*CK?” and chucks the book out the window? That’s how I feel about this book. This 1952 novel about an old Cuban fisherman battling with a massive marlin won a Pulitzer Prize, so it’s obviously an excellent book. But Santiago’s struggle and the whole Jesus parallel did not resonate with me at all when I read it in 9th grade English class. For the record, I enjoyed A Farewell to Arms, and admire all other Hemingway works that I have read.

2.) The Scarlet LetterNathaniel Hawthorne
Though I appreciate the messages this 1850 novel teaches about unfair judgment, sin/guilt, and the complexity of human morality and relationships, reading it felt like slogging through a dense swamp barefoot and without any supplies. It was just so tedious. The story of a woman branded with a scarlet letter “A” after committing adultery while the father of her illegitimate child grapples with his own sense of consuming guilt explores various themes and offers unique perspectives, but my god… I fell asleep reading it more than once because it was such a chore to get through. Each page felt like 1000. And I read it in 11th grade, when I wasn’t tired all the time, like I am now.

3.) Great Expectations Charles Dickens
Give me A Tale of Two Cities or A Christmas Carol any day, but keep this 1861 novel about the life of an orphan named Pip away from me. Granted, I read this book in eighth grade of my own accord for an assignment, which was a mistake. This book, like The Scarlet Letter, felt like it was 10,000 pages long. At times, it almost felt like a punishment. I appreciated the imagery and the themes, and it has a score of memorable characters – like the bitter Miss Havisham. But I was not a fan of the style – though, since I read it so long ago, this might be the one that I give another chance someday. Not any day soon, but someday. Maybe.

4.) Anthem Ayn Rand
I’ll be honest… I don’t remember a lot of this book, which I read in 10th grade. But I distinctly remember not liking it while I was reading it. I’m a big fan of dystopian books – Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451 are two of my favorites, for example – but this one failed to resonate with me. However, I did appreciate the messages about individuality and freedom of thought.

5.) The Catcher in the RyeJ.D. Salinger
I think, for me, this book suffered from overhype, much like The Perks of Being A Wallflower. I kept hearing, before this book was assigned to me in 11th grade, that I was going to LOVE this book, so by the time it actually came to it… I felt mostly “meh” about it. I mean, this book will forever be my #1 reference point for the unreliable narrator, and it’s impossible to deny the influence this book and Holden Caulfield had on literature and popular culture, and I hope a film version never, ever gets made. But I didn’t enjoy reading it all that much.