A Year In Books.

The Red Badge of Courage

So, you know how sometimes you read a book when you’re young and you don’t really appreciate it and then you read it again when you’re older because you need a book to read for your New Years Resolution, which was to read one book a week for a year, and then you completely fall in love with that book? Yeah, I bet you know all about that. And that exact thing happened to me last week when I read The Red Badge Of Courage by Stephen Crane.

I don’t remember what grade I had to read The Red Badge of Courage in, but I remember that I read it quickly and then retained enough information to get an A on the test, and then moved on to whatever assignment was next without giving it another thought. Last week, I was trying to decide what to read when my eyes fell on my copy The Red Badge of Courage and I immediately knew I needed to read it again, and this time, give this classic its due. So I did. Because I’m decisive like that.

Guess what? I loved it. It was so frankly and powerfully written. When I first read it, I don’t remember having a strong emotional connection to it, but this time….wowza. It made me tear up more than once. Which is interesting because it’s not written in a particularly emotional way. I  mean, especially considering that so much of this book is abut what Henry felt, not just what happened, but how it made him feel, you would think it would be full of emotional bombast but it isn’t.  This is one of those things were the lack of sentimentality actually made the book more emotional. Go figure. One part in particular really broke my heart. It’s the part when Henry is saying goodbye to his Mother as he is heading off to war and he is expecting a grandiose scene. What he gets is so much simpler. His mother says “You watch out, Henry, an’ take good care of yerself in this here fighting business- you watch out, an’ take good care of yerself. Don’t go a-thinkin’ you can lick the whole rebel army at the start, because yeh can’t….I’ve knet you eight pairs of socks, Henry, and I’ve put in all yer best shirts because I want my boy to be jest as warm and and comf’able as anybody in the army.” And then she tells him to choose his company wisely and that’s it. Henry is disappointed by her speech but I had tears streaming down my face. I thought her speech was so poignant and beautiful and when, as Henry is walking away, he turns around and his Mother is on her knees praying and crying, I totally lose it for like 2 minutes. Well played Mr. Crane. Well played.

I also completely lose it when Henry’s good friend Jim Conklin dies- and dies so bravely. Seriously, y’all, I haven’t had a book make me cry this much in a long time. It was very unexpected. I became so invested in Henry and read the book just as fast as I did the first time, except this time, I was reading it quickly because I was so into it, not just trying to get through it. I can’t stress enough how well written this book is- it takes an excellent writer to create a main character who can be just as likable when he is fleeing a battle as he is when he is fighting in it bravely. One of the things I liked the best about this book is that is was devoid of any politics. It wasn’t about the Civil War- it was about the men who had to fight it and what they might have been feeling. I liked that. A lot.

Read this book. Even if you already read it in school, read it again. I’m so glad I did.

What are you guys reading this week?

24 thoughts on “A Year In Books.

  1. I have Catcher in the Rye in my car as I type this. Picked it up a few weeks ago. I’ve never read it. I would love to reread The Red Badge of Courage as I haven’t since a student and like you remember little about it. I’m sure I would enjoy it so much more now as I’ve become quite the Civil War buff since Ken Burn’s acclaimed Documentary series on the subject so many years ago.

    I grew up in the east and in those days had no appreciation for the rich history that surrounded me. Youth is wasted on the wrong people.

    Thanks for motivating me to read these two classic books. I enjoy reading your blog.

  2. ooh, a couple more. reading the comments reminded me.

    yes, definitely “A Separate Peace” by John Knowles. i was blown away as a 13 yr old reading it. and also, The Front Runner, by Paticia Nell Warren. extraordinary novel. if you’re not weeping by the end of that, you have a heart of stone. brilliant read. She’s still around and writing.

  3. I’ve experienced this with a lot of books, including my all-time favorite, The Great Gatsby; the themes and writing style of a book may appeal to us for completely different reasons in another phase of our life. The Red Badge of Courage is my dad’s favorite book, and I read it on his recommendation, but I didn’t enjoy it. I wonder if I would like it more all these years later.

  4. great post, GotC. like you, i often revisit the classics. i am currently in the middle of My Antonia, by Willa Cather. (you should re-read it if only for the fact that it comes up on Jeapardy as a question, about every three months. “Who is Willa Cather?” i swear!
    it too, is extraordinarily written. it’s about a family of immigrants in rustic 19th century america. the narrative is brilliant and the characters are so fleshed out that it’s a joy. i missed it ALL when i read it in 6th grade. oh well. that’s why we go back.
    i love this series “A Year In Books” that you’re doing. brava!
    david

  5. Nice review! I never have read that book, but it sounds good. I doubt I’d cry, though, since I’m dead inside and all.

    Last week I finished A Romance on Three Legs and just posted a review.

    I think the next book in the queue might be Mona Lisa Overdrive by William Gibson.

  6. I need to re-read this, too, it sounds like! I can’t remember anything about it. Did it make you cry more than when Dumbledore died?? I don’t know if I’ve ever cried harder than that while reading a book (except with my favorite childhood book, “Bridge to Terabithia”…and yes, I DID like the movie! Loved it! Why couldn’t they make that when I was 10???).

    I’m on the second Percy Jackson book as of today! Woot woot!

  7. I bought Red Badge of Courage at the Goodwill a long time ago, but I’ve been putting off the read. So, now I’ll have to do it!

    I have been wanting to re-read To Kill a Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby for a while, but I’ve also been putting them off. I remember I liked them.

    You’ve put me in mind of some other books from school that I liked: A Separate Peace, The Black Pearl, Animal Farm and Lord of the Flies for starters. I read them, but don’t remember much more than the basic themes. I never did read Catcher in the Rye, so maybe I’ll have to give that one a try, too.

    1. A Separate Peace! I don’t really remember the story now, but 41 years ago I was so moved by a passage from A Separate Peace on the SAT that I stopped testing long enough to imprint the title on my brain so I could remember to get the book and read it. I do remember being touched by the book; sounds like I should revisit it. Thanks for the memory.

  8. I just bought a galaxy tab so was playing with it and one of the things I bought it for was the e-reader capibility. I was browsing the table of free books (there are a lot of great classics) and saw Jane Eyre. I haven’t ever read that book and always wanted to. So I downloaded it (so easy!) and started to read it thinking I’d make it a page in and then life would do something to derail my reading efforts. But it didn’t. At least not for half the book which is now swirling around my brain and I have so many questions but will have to hold them all in while I continue reading… geez. I am *this close* to googling the darn thing. But NO. I am half way, and it is a great book so far, I just need to shove some stuff around to make room for reading. Who needs sleep anyways?

    1. Don’t google it!!!! Finish the book- trust me, it’s so much better that way. Jane Eyre is one of my all-time favorite books and the ending is well worth the wait. Yay! Let me know when you finish.

  9. Catcher in the Rye is the one I discovered as an adult and realized it’s beauty and brilliance.

    Currently reading The Instructions, by Adam Levin. A thousand-page bohemoth about a kid who basically starts a violent uprising in his school. Really, really fascinating. A definite “can’t put it down” book – which is saying something for a thousand pages.

  10. Well, I just devoured the whole Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. Which doesn’t help you much in figuring out what to read next, but I did want to offer you a HUGE thanks for the tip. Because… yeah. Awesome!

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