Way back at the beginning of twelfth grade, my AP English teacher handed us all a book on the second day of school. The book was Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. It was a cheap Dover Thrift edition with a hideous cover of wood grain. We all looked at it and thought to ourselves, "This looks HORRIBLY boring." She told us the books were our own and we could mark them up as we pleased while we read them. I think we all assumed that we had to mark them up, so we wrote things like "IMPORTANT" in the margins, or underlined passages because we thought we were supposed to.
A week or so later, we had our first paper due. We were all nervous, seeing as we were all overachievers who before this class received A's on all our papers. So when the big day came to get our papers, we were all perfectly quiet. This would tell us if we were actually smart and if we deserved the honor of being in this class. She told us that in her 3 sections of AP English, she only gave out 3 B's, every other paper was a C or lower. I think in that moment everyone had a small heart attack.
When I got my own paper back, I remember trying not to panic and trying to figure out how I was going to tell my mom I got a C on a paper. But I didn't need to worry. I was one of the 3 (out of 100 students) that got a B. I was ecstatic. It was a glorious moment.
What made it even more glorious was that I absolutely HATED Ethan Frome. I thought the novella was stupid. Even with all my scribbles in the margins I couldn't make sense of its simplicity. I hated it, and I hated that the back cover called it Wharton's masterpiece.
A few years later when I was in college, I was looking for a quick read one weekend. I had brought a few books up with me for such occasions, including my battered copy of Ethan Frome. I remembered that it was small and a quick read and that I hated it, but I couldn't remember why. So I read it again.
Turns out, I actually loved it. Something inside me clicked and I finally understood the passion of the seemingly simple story. Maybe it was because I gave it an honest chance, or perhaps because I was older and finally understood the meaning of the story. In any case, I loved it.
And I have read it nearly every year since. That one re-reading of a story I once thought I hated sparked a passion for Wharton's work. I love her writing style and the passion she puts into her characters, and I think she does a perfect job in the slim little Ethan Frome. Her skill as a writer shines through and this little novella encapsulates her views as an author. The messages in her books are all as beautifully contrived as in this, and she only gets better with each piece you read by her.
Part of me would love to tell Mrs. McWhirter that she helped inspire my great passion for reading great books. After all, she assigned that slim little novel. And when I finally gave it a real chance, it sparked a love in me of the books that I would have normally rejected.
I still have my Dover thrift edition of the book, and while I would love to get a nicer version, I still love this copy. Its a little beat up, the pages are written all over, the paper is practically see through, but I love the memories. And even though all the passages I marked and comments I made are completely superficial and gloss over the depth of this novella, I still love them and the images they bring back, like that beautiful B I got on that paper, and how reading experiences can change with age.