Reviews of Books I Was Forced To Read in High School, Part 2: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Publish date:

Brief Research Sidenote: In my long esteemed career of researching via the Web 2.0, I have come to love and look forward to the random factual tidbits provided for you by Wikipedia. For instance, where else would I have been able to discover that on an episode of "One Tree Hill", Lucas Scott reads a quote from The Scarlet Letter, or that the hip-hop group The Clipse features the lyric "Like a Scarlet Letter, for the world to see" on their mixtape "We Got It 4 Cheap: Vol. 1"? If you said nowhere, you're totally right. Eat it, World Book.

I read The Scarlet Letter during my freshman year of high school, which-- much like the book-- was a time of semi-specific love angst and poor clothing choices. The SL is by Nathaniel Hawthorne, a Bowdoin College Polar Bear, lifelong New Englander, and Concord, MA neighbor of two philosophizing writers with three names (Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson) whom I often confuse with each other.

For those of you who don't know, The SL centers around a girl named Hester Prynne living on a 17th century Puritan settlement outside of Boston, who is forced to wear a big red A on her chest because she is an adulterer. The adultery in question is complicated, as her husband sent her ahead from England and allegedly never showed up, and God knows life in one of those Puritan settlements was kind of boring what with the hoeing and the witch hunting and what not, but, needless to say, once she got pregnant, the rumor mill (which was located next to the textile mill) abuzzed, and she got harangued. By the "town fathers". Seriously. This kind of stuff happened.

As it turns out, other things also happened. Her long-lost husband was actually in town practicing medicine and using the creepy name Chillingworth. An eloquent minister is revealed to be the baby's daddy, which stresses him out. There is a meteor that looks like a red A. An escape to Europe is planned, then doesn't pan out. Revenge is sought by Chillingworth, then abandoned in frustration. Just think 17th century version of the movie "Something to Talk About" starring Julia Roberts and Dennis Quaid and I think you'll get it.

Anyway, at the time of reading, I did not like The SL. As I recall, my analysis of the book was extensive. Using topical high school sophistry, I attempted a two-pronged attack, using the "Why were the Puritans so crazy?" argument and a less effective "personal experience with sin" component that pushed my grade into the low B's. I have since re-visited The SL (full disclosure: was forced to, in college) and can now better appreciate the themes in the book; sin, civilization vs the wild, old vs new, guilt, etc, but--what I've found looking back at these books-- is that, aside from The Great Gatsby, A Catcher in the Rye, and the underrated A Yellow Raft in Blue Water, I didn't "get" any of them while still in school and therefore, didn't like them. No doubt part of this can be blamed on the fact that I was probably "reading" these literary masterpieces while playing Goldeneye on Nintendo 64 and talking on my private phone line to my GF about whose house we were going to watch "Dawson's Creek" at, but still--for a man of words-- this is kind of embarrassing.

But said embarrassment leads me to a question (or more of a statement about a question): I want to know which books you've read that--despite them receiving either critical, popular or social-emotional acclaim--you just really didn't like. Or "get". Especially if you lied about liking or "getting" them because you were ashamed to admit it and you didn't want that chick who sits across from you with the black rectangular framed glasses, the leather-bound notebook, and the smug, world-weary expression to have the satisfaction of knowing you didn't get them...or, you know, something like that.

I await your embarrassment(z).

I've got one hand in my pocket,
and the other one is giving a high five


Plot Twist Story Prompts: Split Up

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Split Up

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have your characters split up.


Deborah Hall, 2020 Writer's Digest Poetry Awards Winner

The winner of the 2020 Writer’s Digest Poetry Awards discusses the inspiration behind her first-place poem, “The Loneliest Whale."

Kerry Winfrey: On Writing a Romance that's Cozy and Comforting

Kerry Winfrey: On Writing a Romance that's Cozy and Comforting

Author Kerry Winfrey wrote her latest romance, Very Sincerely Yours, during the 2020 pandemic to comfort herself. Here, she's explaining why that tone is important for readers.


The 2020 Writer's Digest Poetry Awards Winners

Congratulations to the winners of the 2020 WD Poetry Awards!


Your Story #113

Write a short story of 650 words or fewer based on the photo prompt. You can be poignant, funny, witty, etc.; it is, after all, your story.

E.J. Levy: When Your First Draft is Your Best Draft

E.J. Levy: When Your First Draft is Your Best Draft

Author E.J. Levy discusses her journey with drafting and redrafting her historical fiction novel, The Cape Doctor, and why her first draft was her best draft.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 569

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write an "In the Name of Blank" poem.

Writer's Digest July/August 2021 Cover

Writer's Digest July/August 2021 Cover Reveal

The July/August 2021 issue of Writer's Digest features a collection of articles about writing for change plus an interview with Jasmine Guillory about her newest romance, While We Were Dating.