Well, for the sake of trying to actually finish my book list this year, I took a break from The Pilgrim's Progress and decided to dive into The Scarlet Letter, and I have to say: it was the perfect October read. With just enough mention of witches, demons, and fiends against a dreary New England setting, this novel (one of the greatest American novels of all time, many say) felt almost haunted. Perfect for curling up under a cozy blanket and reading straight through. (In case you can't tell: I liked it.)
The novel tells the tale of the beautiful adulteress Hester Prynne (branded with the scarlet letter "A" for her sin), her elf-like daughter Pearl (conceived from her adulterous affair), the holy Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale (SPOILER! he's her babydaddy, y'all), and old Roger Chillingworth (who is straight-up possessed by the devil). At the beginning of the story, we find Hester Prynne being publicly shamed and punished for the sin of adultery. Despite extreme pressure from the town superiors to reveal her partner in crime, Hester absolutely refuses to name the father of her child. As the novel continues, we see Hester bearing up under the shame of the scarlet letter, raising her little Pearl, and managing to live her life with dignity after her very public humiliation juxtaposed against Arthur Dimmesdale wasting away with the guilt of concealing his role in the affair. (To find out more about nasty, old Roger Chillingworth and his part in this mess, you'll have to read the novel for yourself.)
Confession time: this was assigned reading for me in high school, but I never finished it. I think I got about halfway through before stopping. I had this wicked streak in me during my academic career to never finish books that were required reading. Honestly, I don't know why. Call it the devil, but I wouldn't even finish books I was enjoying. Like this one. Or Wuthering Heights (seriously, I got to chapter 20 and stopped. OUT OF 22 CHAPTERS!). Or Huck Finn. Or The Screwtape Letters (which was a book of my own choosing for my senior thesis paper!). I have read all of these books since high school of my own volition and to my own great enjoyment. Why I was such a decided little rebel back then I credit to the fact that we're all depraved creatures in need of the Good Lord's grace.
All that to say, this was my first time reading all the way through The Scarlet Letter to the end, and even though I had an idea of the basic plot, it felt like a brand-new, first-time read to me.
And I absolutely loved it and would definitely recommend it with one caveat: skip the dang introduction. It was 32 pages of pure misery that had me believing that between The Pilgrim's Progress and The Scarlet Letter, I would never finish my book list this year. I'm not exaggerating when I say that it took me longer to read that 32 page introduction than it took me to finish the whole 24 chapter book. It's not that important and except for one tiny reference in the very last chapter of the book, you don't need to read it to understand anything in the novel. Spare yourself.
To wrap this up, I just have to reiterate how masterful and psychologically complex this novel is. I think I suffered a moral crisis while reading it, and as I was nearing the end, I really wasn't sure where Hawthorne was taking it or if I'd appreciate the destination when we arrived. He finished beautifully, and I would love to discuss this book in more detail with anyone who's read it. Two enthusiastic thumbs up from me.
Have you ever read The Scarlet Letter? Did you have trouble with taking direction in high school (or at any other time of your life)? What is your favorite October-y book to read? Any challenging books you're trying to wrap up before the end of the year?