Have you ever encountered a friend from your childhood, someone you haven’t met in ages, sat down with them for a few hours, and, when you parted ways again, thought… What on earth was I thinking?
I’m talking about books and not people, of course. *grin*
For the most part, I have very fond memories of the books I read as a kid. I reread Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series almost every year, I remember Marguerite Henry’s horse books fondly, and some series, like Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander behemoths, I’m still reading. Some books get under your skin and stay there.
But works like the Outlander series, which I’ve been reading since I was 11 or 12, and the Little House books, which I never quit reading, are not quite the same as books you remember all your life as being remarkable but haven’t committed to in the same way as your very favorites.
It’s always an interesting experience to pick one of those not-quite-favorites up as an adult. Sometimes it pans out and other times, you wonder if time changed you so much, or the book itself.
I didn’t go to my ten-year high school reunion this year. I’m not much of one for looking back, and I certainly don’t spend much time reminiscing about high school. I have fonder memories of many book-friends than people-friends. But I’ve gotten to see the progress of many of my high school friends through social media… and it’s just not pretty. For every three friends who have blossomed, there’s the odd acquaintance who just slid downhill from the moment they left school.
At least, I think that’s the case. Perhaps some of those people seemed cooler when I was an impressionable 16—maybe that quarterback only looked cute under the glow of stadium lights on a Friday night. Just like the books we read, much of our understanding of those people (and characters) is shaped by the context in which we knew them. In a Celtic-goddessy-prepubescent phase, The Mists of Avalon was a marvel, but to an adult who is comfortable with her—well, we’ll say comfortable with herself and leave it at that—the book seems preachy and more than a little angry, just like that quarterback who lost his glory back with the state championship in ’01. Bitterness isn’t a good look for anyone.
Still, revisiting the books that shaped us has value. Occasionally we might ‘ruin’ a book for ourselves, finding that the haze of memory suited it much better than the harsh focus of rereading. But even in doing that, we see where we’ve been and how far we’ve come.
For the most part, my books—like my friends—have stood the test of time. If I remember them, they’re still pretty cool. The Witch of Blackbird Pond stood the test of time, as did James Herriot’s animal books. But I’ve had a few shocks, too, the book equivalents of the friends who dyed their bright-blonde hair black and changed their names. The Mists of Avalon has been one to let me down, much like The Sword of Shannara and that weird teen romance that I read in probably fifth grade, the one about arranged marriages in the 19th century. (Never reread the books whose names you can’t remember. Best not to go there at all. The jury’s still out on whether or not the same is true for people!)
But in spite of the shocking changes that time wrought on my understanding of those books, I still like to look fondly back on the shy preteen who dressed up like Morgaine for Halloween and the ten-year-old who obsessively read the Shannara books one summer. As for the girl who liked that teen romance… well, I’m sure she’s in here somewhere, too, now.
And my real book friends, those I’ve known and loved, that have loved me all this time, too, well, I know they will be a comfort to me even as I move into the coming decades. Like those friends I meet again and sit down to chat with as if no time has passed, those books will grown and change with me, even as they remind me of who I once was.
What books from your childhood have you encountered as an adult? How did they measure up?