How old were you when you read…
Edmund Wilson (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*) is credited with having said, “No two persons ever read the same book.”
This was apparently attributed to Wilson in the 1970s, but there is another quotation from Wilson from 1938 (in the Triple Thinkers) which intrigues me more right now:
“In a sense, one can never read the book that the author originally wrote, and one can never read the same book twice.”
It’s that second part.
Does it matter when in your life you read a book?
Did you read a book when you were a child, and then re-read it as an adult and have an entirely different take on it?
How about when you were in college versus later in your life when you were more settled?
I’m not a big re-reader of books (although I am reading the L. Frank Baum books again right now), but I wonder about how my age (and/or life experience) has affected the way I see certain books.
When I list my fictional heroes, I realize they are all people I first encountered when I was a child (including being a teenager): Doc Savage; Kwai Chang Caine; Mr. Spock. When I think of authors like Gerald Durrell and John A. Keel, the same is true.
When I read a book now, I may be very impressed and marvel at the author, but I don’t think the books have the same capability to be ingrained in me for life.
Perhaps, more accurately, I should say that I may not have the same capability to take them into my being.
My guess is that tends to be true…that literary characters and authors you find when you are young are the ones that become part of you. You are in a super-learning part of your life…of course, the vast majority of words you learn you learn before you are settled.
That doesn’t mean that you don’t learn some new words later, or enjoy some new characters…but is it…more of an acquaintance of equals than you aspiring to be like someone you see as greater than yourself?
Since I’m using the term “settled” (not to suggest inert…just stable and reasonably satisfied), I wonder if people who are in more insecure situations later in life are more able to have that integrative reading experience?
Take a moment to think about the books that have transported you, transformed you, and enthralled you. The ones where you still randomly imagine yourself to be that character. Maybe you are on vacation or just walking down the street, and you see something…a wall, a bit of litter, a person half seen in the shadows, and for a moment, you see them through fictional eyes.
Who are the ones you quote in conversations with loved ones…because what they say is better than anything you could say at that point?
When did you first read them?
I’ll say, I’m not really comfortable with those age breaks…I know some societies make a big difference between twelve and thirteen, but I’m not sure that matters that much to what you read. High school (which I didn’t break out) could make a bigger difference (at least in the USA), because you might be exposed to considerably different books (both in the classroom and from your friends).
I have to say, I don’t think I’m feeling that different about the Oz books now than I did when I was a kid…although I’m definitely getting more detail and insight, the basic feel of Oz and the way I feel about the characters is similar.
I’m sure in the case of some books, I would be more put off by chronocultural prejudice
but I think I would still see the character as the same. I think I would tend to judge the world more than the author.
I love reading, and I love my current discoveries…but I would say I do miss that tendency to memorize an entire book, and to project myself into the characters’ worlds…and to have them project into mine.
That may happen again in the future, but for now, I have to recognize that the relationship has changed.
What do you think? Are there books that you re-read over and over again (I know of someone who reportedly just alternated Gone with the Wind…and Helter Skelter)? Is it because they are different each time, the same…or both? If certain ages are more impactful, would it be possible to engineer someone’s life (a la Lord Tyger ((at AmazonSmile))by Philip Jose Farmer, which I recommend and think would make a good movie) by introducing certain books into their life at certain ages? Are there books you wish you hadn’t read until you were older…or that you had read when you were younger? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.
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This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.