Rereading: Trusting My High School Self

I'll be honest- I'm not a rereader. I have way too many books the way it is and there are constantly new ones coming out that I want to read. But, there are always exceptions, and this week Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale was one. For those not familiar with the plot, it's about a handmaid named Offred whose sole duty is to get pregnant. Dressed in bright red robes, she lives at the home of a commander, who, once a month tries to knock her up (and they wonder why there were so few births... probability, people! Once a month only works if you're drunk, sixteen, and at a party), while his wife is crouched behind, watching the whole thing. Kinky, right? Not so much. Offred is miserable, her thoughts are constantly with her husband and daughter, neither of which she knows the location of. Prudes are respected, as is silence- the government is a constant presence. Eventually, the commander's wife tries to get Offred pregnant by other means, which leads to emotional investment and possible danger. This dystopian novel is definitely in my top ten all-time favorite books.

But anyway, the rereading. It's been about eleven years since I read it the first time and while I remembered the basics, it was interesting how much I had forgotten. For example, the only thing I remembered about an episode in a gentleman's club was that the elevators were compared to glass eggs. I had also forgotten the phrase "nolite te bastardes carborundum," (don't let the bastards get you down) which Offred clings to for much of the book. I was a little apprehensive going into it- what if my high school self had horrible taste in books? I mean, Christine the teenager also really loved Cappuccino Blasts, going to Denny's with friends, and watching reruns, all things I'm not too enthusiastic about now. Luckily, my taste in books wasn't half bad (no, I'm not going to stop in and get a Grand Slam for breakfast this weekend). 

I'm also pleased with the fact that our teachers chose The Handmaid's Tale as a novel for the IB curriculum, as it is quite sexual (but then again we did read House of the Spirits as sophomores). I don't remember the class discussions, but one of the major themes has to do with whether or not women are in charge of their sexuality, as well as the ethics behind using people as just reproductive vessels. A lot of the sex is implied, but it is a bit disturbing and so different from what teenagers are used to. Personally, I don't shy away from discussing sex in the classroom. Sex is  a huge part of being human- being human is a huge part of literature. I would love to be able to use this book in my class, if only we had the budget to buy copies.

Something I did not forget was how great The Handmaid's Tale is. I think this idea of not forgetting in terms of pathos is interesting. I can tell you whether or not I liked a book and the emotional effect it had on me for every book I've read on my shelf. Perhaps I recount every tiny detail, but preference is something that apparently doesn't fade. 


  1. I also think it's progressive that you got to read a book that delves into topics relating to sex and sexuality in high school. Senior year, we read Brave New World, which also has some interesting things going on with sex. I would be in way over my head as a teacher discussing such things (but they are important for kids to talk about in school! I'm just used to younger kiddos and helicopter parents, so I don't know how it'd go over). BNW was actually one of my favorite high school books in part because of the role of sex (I was curious! It was thought provoking) and I hope teacher continue to choose such books and not shy away from them.

  2. Hi Christine,
    THe Handmaid's Tale was probably my favorite book of those I read in 2012. It had been recommended to me many times over the years and am I ever glad that I finally listened. It took me a moment to realize Offred's name really just meant "Of Fred" instead of "Off Red" - how funny is that.

    I recently read Atwood's The Robber Bride, which I also found to be excellent.

    I was of the impression that "nolite te bastardes carborundorum" was not really a latin phrase just a made-up one that sounds right. I'll have to do some research on that. The phrase was up as 'graffiti' on my dry erase board at the office for awhile last year, heh heh.


    1. It's not a Latin phrase, you are right- the Commander talks about it being a sort of parody of it in the book.