Our Reading Lives

Thoughts After Reading The Giver at 36

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The Giver book coverDo you sometimes read a book and when you’re done you think, “you know, I would have really loved this book ten years ago”?

Well, I just finished Lois Lowry’s The Giver, and I just wish I could give this to my 13-year-old self. I’m sure if I’d read it at that age it would have been one of my favorite books. Now, at the ripe old age of 36, I read it and loved it despite a few glaring plot holes, the biggest of which, of course, is that while people may suffer from a lack of memory, there is nothing to explain their lack of emotion or empathy. While in Orwell’s 1984 people are kept in line using fear, there is no incentive in The Giver for people not to be curious, and it annoyed me. There is no room for teenage rebellion in the community, no mention of how different the communities are or what the kids are learning in school (if they can’t see color and, we have to assume, can’t learn history) but of course, this is not a book about that.

Don’t get me wrong- The Giver is a fantastic book, and a great workout for the grey matter. It’s just that I wish I’d read it without the cynicism and need for verisimilitude of adulthood. It does the same trick Harry Potter does, however- it is sure to make kids want to read more.

The dystopian setting and the mysterious Giver, along with teen rebellion and a the mystery of what’s “Elsewhere” would have kept me turning pages and wracking my brain (much like the excitement I felt reading 1984 for the first time at age 14). I would have slipped into the character of Jonas, envisioning how I would react in the same situation. I might even have written Lowry some fan mail.

I am surprised to see that it was the eleventh most challenged book of 1990 – 1999, as I felt much of it was rather tame (apart from, you know, the infanticide), and there is no profanity, sex, or references to godlessness.

So. If any of you own a time machine, please go back to 1993 and give me a copy of the book. (If you could also tell me to buy some Apple stock, that would be great.)

I’ll end this with a quote from the introduction by Lowry, regarding movie adaptations of books.

Does The Giver have the same effect when it is presented in a different way? It’s hard to know. A book, to me, is almost sacrosanct: such an individual and private thing. The reader brings his or her own history and beliefs and concerns, and reads in solitude, creating each scene from his own imagination as he does. There is no fellow ticket-holder in the next seat.

What books to you wish you could give your teenage self?


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