Monday, March 1, 2010

Book 25: O Willa....

Way back in the summer before ninth grade, I had a reading assignment to complete. Since I was attempting to be an over-achiever, I signed up for Honors English. That last few weeks of school in 8th grade were a bummer once we all found out we had to read three assigned books before the beginning of school.

Those books were The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, a choice between Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card or David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (I wisely chose Card's book unlike 4 of my classmates), and My Antonia by Willa Cather.

I decided to bring these three books with me on our annual summer vacation up to my grandparent's cottage. I have many great memories of reading up there in the summer while lying on the end of the dock, or sitting in the boat, and that summer is no exception.

Things start off well. I decided to read The Count of Monte Cristo first, since it seemed to be the heaviest of the three. I actually ended up loving the revenge and violence of the book and flew through it in 2 days. Then I decided to read Ender's Game. I had not read any science fiction at that point, but reading that book launched my love affair with the genre. By this point, I was ecstatic. If all Honors English was like this, I was going to be amazing. My teacher was going to love me and I knew I was going to rock in my class and show off my mad reading skills.

But I had one book left, and that book was My Antonia by Willa Cather. When we went to buy a copy, it definitely didn't seem intimidating. After all, it had a pink cover. I figured it was a girly romance and I could fly through it, no problem!

That is where it all went downhill. For some reason, I HATED Cather's novel. It was all I could do to force myself through it, page by page, moaning and groaning the entire way. I can vividly remember sitting in the back of the boat, book in hand, and trying not to chuck it in the water and be done with it. Somehow, I managed to finish it and I vowed that I would never read it ever again.

On the first day of ninth grade, however, the world's scariest English teacher, Mrs. P, gave us the lecture that scared us for the rest of the year (I was actually petrified of her until 12th grade when she subbed for us. Then I realized she was actually an awesome lady). She told us on that first day that the first month of school would be devoted to those three books and we were going to discuss every detail.

She also told us that she had no problem letting us struggle under water for as long as we needed to, and she was the kind of person to only dive in and get you if you actually drowned. It was a scary speech for a freshman.

We managed to discuss the other novels and there was a general consensus that everyone like the book choices. After all, they were pretty entertaining. But when it came time for My Antonia, no one said much of anything. In fact, the only thing I can really remember about the book is the "red grass" and that was all my classmates could remember. We discussed that red grass blowing in the wind so many times that I swore that if I ever saw red grass in my life I would scream (I haven't so I haven't had to embarrass myself yet).

It was pure luck that I was not assigned to the group that had to do a final project on My Antonia. We all felt bad for those poor kids (I got to do my project on Ender's Game).

So, you can understand why I have reservations about reading Willa Cather again. I mean, she ruined my summer and I don't even remember why! However, I am a believer in that a book has to come to you in the right moment for you to click with it (unless it is Dickens because I will never click with Dickens) and perhaps at 13 I just wasn't ready for Cather. I am willing to give her another chance and see if age has helped, especially since it has been 11 years since that experience.

Here is to second chances and red grass!


  1. I truly hope you enjoy this one! I have never read anything by Willa Cather, so will be very interested in how you like it!

  2. Oh dear... very entertaining blog entry though - sorry that you are finding cather a bit of a trial, I guess that she is an acquired taste. hope you are enjoying "The Great Gatsby" more.
    Thanks for sharing

  3. Hahaha... yeah, I've had a few of those experiences. Especially the scary teacher ones.
    But you got to read Ender's Game at the age of 13 for school! I read it when I was in college because my favorite high school teacher was teaching it and had an extra copy :)
    Fun little side-story none the less.

  4. Just discovered your blog today and am enjoying reading around on it and look forward to your take on more of the great classics. Cather is my favorite author but I never clicked with My Antonia either (and I've read it about 3 times). I even studied it at the graduate level with one of the premier Cather scholars and I still didn't get it, especially when compared to other Cather novels that I love like One of Ours, The Song of the Lark, Death Comes for the Archbishop, and O Pioneers. It annoys me that My Antonia is on so many summer reading lists when I don't think its Cather's best. So it goes.