Every so often I get hit with a sign of how much I must have learnt and grown since (say) 8 years ago, although I don’t necessarily feel much different. There can’t be any activity that does this quite as often as rereading a book, and suddenly discovering this and that detail/nuance which you never noticed before, or being affected by it in a completely new way. The former points to intellectual growth, perhaps, while the latter signifies emotional growth. I suppose it’s only natural for one to, ahem, mature – let’s hope that’s the case anyway – from one’s teenage years into the twenties, but it’s darn strange when you perceive it happening to yourself.

The reading material in question is Othello. I gleefully discarded my copy after my year-end literature examinations in Secondary 3 (I still remember that I wrote an essay on whether Iago’s nature was essentially evil), which was, yup, 8 years ago. And while I struggled with the language then, I found myself intuitively grasping the meanings of the Elizabethan colloquialisms and Shakespearanisms this time. And reacting to the characters as if they were real people who just happened to live a few hundred years ago. After I finished the play I flicked idly to the editor’s introduction (I was reading Arden’s 7th ed., copyrighted 1958) and found myself agreeing with some, and disagreeing with other, points in his reading of it. The fact that I was capable of forming my own opinion on Shakespeare is quite remarkable.

I recall a conversation with a good friend a while ago in which I remarked that I didn’t seem to get much out of many authors and works that people consider classics. For whatever reason, (more) contemporary writers were just that much more accessible and meaningful. I have shelvesful of books that I bought in a spate of self-improvement years ago. Lots of usual suspects are there: Dante, Homer, Dostoyevsky, Goethe, Hardy, Joyce, and of course Shakespeare. Most of them I haven’t cracked. (Okay, off the top of my head I remember that I read Jude the Obscure and The Aeneid, but precious little else). When I did find the time to read for pleasure I’d go for Pratchett, or L’Engle, or L. M. Montgomery. After all, reading The (Old) Greats seemed too much like hard work, even though Shakespeare was a crowd-pleaser in his time.

I’m starting to re-evaluate that prejudice (which was probably born out of fear). At least my parents will stop ribbing me about the money I spent on books that I never read. And then I can sell off – in clear conscience – those that I still don’t get at my advanced age. There is the possibility that in 10 years I’ll snort at how ignorant I was in my twenties, of course. But life is too short to keep returning to things which are trendy to like but that you don’t like, in the hope of eventually liking them. It is also a wee bit pretentious.

Fun bits in Othello:

Duke: To mourn a mischief that is past and gone,/Is the next way to draw more mischief on.

Cassio (on alcohol): O God, that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal way their brains; that we should with joy, revel, pleasure, and applause, transform ourselves into beasts!

Othello: I will chop her into messes…!