Thursday Thoughts: Books and the passage of time

I think it's no secret that people's tastes in books generally change over time. Otherwise, why else would we have different age ranges for books?

But I've been surprised by truly how much—and how little—my own tastes in reading, and even in individual books, have changed over the months and years.

And I might go even further. I would argue that it's not always about what a book contains that influences my feelings on it.

In some ways, it was more about when I decided to read the story.

Here's an easy example. My favorite book is Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead. I love this book so much that I wrote a review of it, decided the first review didn't do it justice, and then wrote a second review of it (which I also think didn't do it justice, but still). I've read this book over, and over, and over—probably seven times by now.

I did not like Goodbye Stranger when I first read it.

Considering that my #1 reading philosophy in life is "Read books by Rebecca Stead," saying that honestly feels like sacrilege. But alas, it is true.

I don't quite recall what about the book didn't grab me, but I suspect it had something to do with the slowness of the book, the stillness. Goodbye Stranger is a snapshot of everyday life. Maybe it's Bridge and Jamie's love of Hermey the elf from the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer special. Maybe it's the unnamed girl, narrating in second-person, trying to live a normal day while hiding from her parents and the excruciating drama of high school. Maybe it's Bridge at the diner with Sherm, introducing him to the wonders of cinnamon toast.

I think younger me found this book to be a snooze.

But upon re-reading this book, what seemed like a slow plot with not much happening transformed. Suddenly I saw a cozy, faithful portrait of people living beautiful lives and being there for each other, even during the hard times.

And suddenly I loved the book.

Nothing changed about the book between my first and second read-throughs. What changed was my outlook on life. I finally understood the beauty of the little things in life, a beauty that Goodbye Stranger is chock-full of. And with that new understanding came a new appreciation for the book.

Sometimes, I haven't always grown as a person enough to understand a book, even when I do post my reviews. Take, for example, the graphic novel Camp, the second in a delightful series by Kayla Miller.

Camp is a book about middle-school friendship drama. Friendship drama can already be a touchy subject for me—I am far from a social butterfly, and although things are improving now, I used to have few (if any) meaningful friendships, and plenty of resentment about it.

One of Camp's main characters, Willow, is pretty shy and doesn't have many friends. And we see in the story that a lot of other kids are reaching out to her and trying to be friends with her, but in her anxiety and even her resentment, she pushes them away and clings to the main character, Olive.

When I first read this story, I was so bent out of shape. How dare they depict a shy person as clingy and help-rejecting? I was certain that the only reason I didn't have many friends was because I hadn't met the right person yet, and I was irritated at Camp for suggesting otherwise.

Now, several years and counseling sessions later, I've realized that Camp was actually right. I could have had relationships just as fulfilling with the people I knew in the past as with the people I know now—the secret, I've learned, is to actually reach out, respond to other people's interest, and reveal your true self (or at least bits and pieces of it) to others.

And suddenly, the angry feelings that I used to have about Camp are pretty much gone.

Sometimes, it isn't always personal growth regarding the subject matter of a book that makes a difference. It could be something as simple as changing reading habits.

A few weeks ago, I reviewed the jaw-droppingly spectacular YA novel Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, a book that I waited around five years to read. I talk about the long wait in this post, but there is honestly a reason I'm grateful for the long wait in trying this book.

When I was a really little kid, I was an incredibly fast reader. I could read a book in a few hours—done!

And then a little something happened called developing OCD. (Yes, I'm actually diagnosed—I'm not just throwing the term around.)

I'm not going to go down the whole rabbit-hole at this moment, but I do want to talk about a strange thing that happened to me back when my OCD was more severe.

Imagine this: You're reading a book, like normal. One sentence, the next sentence, et cetera. Maybe you're missing a few words, here and there, but it's fine.

And then, suddenly, you worry. What if the words I missed were important? What if I missed some important, beautiful part of the story?

OK, you tell yourself. I'll just go back and re-read that bit.

So you do. But OCD is never satisfied—no, no. You worry you missed it again, and you go back and re-read again.

And again.

And again. Reading the same sentence until it barely means anything at all.

So then you get bored. But you come up with a genius solution to your boredom! I'll just read ahead and see what happens next, and I'll come back and finish re-reading this part later.

Suddenly, your genius solution isn't so genius, now, is it? Because once you read ahead, skimming along like you normally would, you have to go back and pore over everything you hadn't "finished" re-reading in the first place, and then you have to pore over all of the reading-ahead that you only skimmed and didn't fully "take in."

By this point, you can imagine that reading could be a miserable slog. And that's exactly what happened to me. For years and years and years, but finally—finally—I got it resolved. I'm still a slow reader, but no longer is it nearly as torturous as it used to be.

My point is this: If I had read Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe several years ago, I would have gotten stuck in the miserable slog, like I did with so many other books. I would have moved through the book so slowly that I would have hated it. And I would have given up, partway through, on one of the most gorgeous books I've ever seen in my life.

But that's not what happened. I didn't get stuck in the slog, and I adored the book every bit as much as it deserved. Because I waited.

There's so many other examples I can think of about books and the passage of time. There was the time a few months ago when I made the mistake of reading the poignant graphic novel A Map to the Sun right after reading the painful novel Fighting Words. I still loved A Map to the Sun, but there's a part of me that wonders if I would have loved it even more if I had waited longer to read it, once the previous pain had subsided.

There have been times that I have read a book and thought I absolutely loved it and would re-read it again and again, such as with the graphic novel Stargazing, when in fact the book's allure would fade just like the countless other stories on my bookshelves.

There are the subjects in books that I tend to dislike but find myself slowly—ever so slowly—warming up to as I get older, such as romance.

But above all else, I think what's most notable about my taste in books over time is the part you might be noticing most from the blog—that I still read MG and YA books.

I am a young adult myself, but I do find it strange, even as my taste in MG books narrows bit by bit, that my taste in YA books hasn't expanded as much as I would have thought (to say nothing of adult books—I'll have to figure out that mess at some point, but that's for another day).

There's both a comforting consistency and a worrying stillness in the age ranges of books I like to read, but whether I like it or not (and mostly, I do), it seems to be here to stay.

Even as time passes, I can't force myself to give up on all the wonderful stories I still love reading. And in fact, as you may or may not see a week from Monday, some of the stories I have decided to stop missing out on...might not be the kind of stories you would expect me to be picking up next.

The way we perceive books is intertwined with the stages of our lives (and of our reading schedules)—and although I wish that I could pick up any book any time and feel the same way about it, I think it's worth acknowledging that who we are, and when we read, is as big a part of the books we read as the words and images themselves.

Do you recall any times where you felt differently about a book based on when you read it? Tell me about it in the comments below! And of course, stay tuned for my book review on Monday and my next Thursday Thoughts post a week from today. See y'all then!

Comments

  1. This post is spot on. I often feel bad for books I read when I am too busy, can only read in really short spurts, or am just not in the right space. I give them a less than wonderful review, but worry that it's my mindset at the time and not really the book at all.

    It's nice to meet another Rebecca Stead fan. I have recommended When You Reach Me to more people than I can count. There's just something about it that has stuck with me for years.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much! And it totally makes sense that reading when you're busy or might have to put the book down a lot of times would influence your feelings on it—I think the same is true for me as well.

      And I'm so glad you enjoy Rebecca Stead's books too! When You Reach Me is brilliant, and I love Goodbye Stranger and The List of Things That Will Not Change as well. She can incorporate so many different topics into each book so meaningfully, and she always manages to write from a genuinely childlike perspective. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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