Age, reading, and old friends

Can some books only be enjoyed at a certain age? That’s the premise of this post in the Guardian, which got me thinking about books I enjoyed tremendously at one time and now can’t quite get that same excitement from. Or even get through, in some cases.

For example: Breakfast of Champions. I LOVED this book in high school and college. But I took it on vacation with me this spring, and couldn’t get past page 10.

For example: A Wrinkle In Time. I actually still like the imagination of book a lot, but it’s very dated, and I couldn’t help but see some themes in it as an adult that I didn’t see as a kid, and which brought my enjoyment of the book down a few notches.

For example: All books by Tom Robbins. I was very attached to them in my early 20s.

On the other hand, there are books I read when I was younger that I didn’t appreciate much then, and now appreciate more.

For example: Catcher in the Rye. A lot of people say they have the opposite reaction, that they can’t figure out what blew them away about this book at age 16; when they reread it as adults it falls flat.

And there are books which after I’ve read them I’ve thought, I might appreciate this more if I read it when I get older. I can’t think of any solid examples right now, but they are definitely out there.

I actually find not being able to recapture the original euphoric feelings I had about a book incredibly depressing. Some people don’t read books twice for this reason. Of course, some people don’t read books twice because they think life’s too short and there are too many books to read to bother to backtrack. I used to be of this camp, but then I started writing and I began to need/want to examine some books/authors more carefully, and sometimes this requires re-reading. Also, I guess I got older and I began to miss some books that I had read a long time ago, kind of like you might miss an old friend.

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One thought on “Age, reading, and old friends

  1. Bouncing around your blog randomly (tea break – and I’m fascinated by a process you’ve engaged with for 6.5 years – sorry!) – I do so empathise with this. There are certain books I’ve picked up and put down for years because the person I was at that point just wasn’t ready to listen – Dante’s Inferno being a case in point which I’ve just started digging into. On the other hand, coming back to some writers decades later feels like an encounter on an entirely different level. Yeats, for example. ‘The Fascination Of What’s Difficult’ is a very different poem for me in my forties after years of wrestling with managing stuff. The Yeats groupie that was me in my twenties would have just skimmed past it in search of the occult stuff.

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