Every now and then, you have a moment where you realize your tastes have changed. Your a kid and you absolutely loathe strawberries, but now as an adult you’re baffled by ever not loving them. Or you love Will Ferrell movies, and then you actually watch one and realize it’s awful.
One of my most drastic flips like that was with Virginia Woolf. It all started years ago in a classroom…
(Please imagine a hazy wavering dream sequence intro…)
My one refusal
I was a pretty rule-abiding kid growing up, and particularly in school. I enjoy learning, so I didn’t usually have an issue with being there and doing whatever things were assigned. The one exception arose in a Women’s History class that I ended up in by a fluke; technically it was only for upperclassmen, so I’m still not sure why I was in there.
The class went okay, and I enjoyed it for the most part, until one fateful day. Our assignment was to read Virginia Woolf’s signature stream of consciousness essay, A Room of One’s Own. If you’ve never read a stream of consciousness work you should really consider yourself lucky because MY GOD is it confusing i mean theres minimal punctuation and her thoughts just scramble in every direction as she starts with a walk through the park droning on about policemen and ducks and whatever else happens to catch her eye until it all becomes one page entirely full of text with absolutely no breaks and its almost impossible to follow because its just her unfiltered thoughts with seemingly no editing.
And there’s a little example, though even that is pretty coherent. So if it’s not clear, I very much disliked reading it, as it’s very theoretical and about people’s rights and whatnot, but delivered in a very rambling format. The style is the complete antithesis of “concise.”
I finished that book, and I thought it might kill me. Or at least kill my love of reading. In the end we finished discussing it in class and our teacher assigned an essay on it as part of the final project for the quarter.
Which I flat out refused to do.
I don’t remember now what I did do, if anything, but I told my teacher I would not be writing that essay, and I didn’t. It was completely out of character for me, and even thinking back on it now I’m mildly surprised by myself! But hey, stick to your guns, right?
And yet she re-emerges
I probably should have known that as an English major I would have to read something else by Virginia Woolf while I was at university. That said, I did make it until my final year before she strode back into my life. Unfortunately that also meant she was a candidate for what I had to use in my senior thesis to graduate which… was not ideal, based on past experience.
This time, she emerged in the form of To The Lighthouse, which is an actual novel instead of the unfiltered thoughts I’d read before. We worked through it in the class, and reading this one was significantly easier. It wasn’t exactly a pleasure, like a decadent chocolate cake, but it was satisfying in its own way, like a bowl of salmon and farro.
I had to stop and think about it frequently, both while reading and while discussing it in my class of about six other people. And in talking about it so much, I came to really appreciate the subtleties of the writing and the layers of each character.
In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I wrote my entire lengthy senior thesis on it and gave several presentations. (And yeah, I nailed it.) I came to really enjoy that book, and the work I did on it only increased that. I’m also really proud of what I created from it, so it holds a lot of positive feelings now.
What are your top book flip-flops?
Maybe yours don’t span over the course of years, but have you ever loved the first work by an author that you read, and then been bitterly disappointed by the rest of their works? Or maybe even in the course of one book: you started it out and were feeling a bit lukewarm, when that one plot twist or character introduction totally spun you into loving it? Love to hear about them — and any related experiences with Virginia Woolf. 😁