Today during a conversation with my boss about books we enjoyed, she told me about her experience re-reading The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin.
She first read it in the 1970s when she was in her mid-twenties, and at that time she thought it was all about gender roles, gender identity and the box it puts us in from the moment of our birth. She recently read it again, in her late fifties, and had a different experience. While she loved the book both times, the second time she realized it was clearly a book about diplomacy; about the politics involved as the citizens of Winter jockeyed for position in their dealings with the man from Earth.
I haven’t read The Left Hand of Darkness (I will now), but as a writer I immediately thought of what a rich and complex work it must be for my boss to have had such different experiences with it. Certainly we all do this with any work; as readers we focus on the areas that interest us and glean what we most desire or need from its pages, but not every novel lends itself to this as easily as Le Guin’s. Most of my own re-reading experiences have been disappointing: novels that spoke to me at 17 seem simple or didactic now.
I’m wondering, Gentle Readers: which books have changed meaning for you over time? If you write, how do you weave in multiple themes? Which other authors are particularly good at this?
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