Tuesday, 22 April 2008

books and reading cycles

When I think over my lifetime of reading books, I look at what I own now, and what I used to have, in my twenties and thirties. I find that I want to go back and read books that I read when I was 25, and haven't read since. Books like yesterday's post about Ray Bradbury - I know I read Fahrenheit 451 when I was a teenager, and I know I read Something Wicked This Way Comes (thanks for the comment, Chris; see my previous post, it reminded me of this!) in my 20's. But do I still own the books? No. I gave them away, sold them, lent them, over so many moves they were not among the ones I managed to keep with me. So now, many years later, it's time to revisit them. And that is what this post is about: reading cycles, and revisiting books read long ago. Does anyone else do this? Do you find yourself thinking back to the first fantasy or sf books, or romance, or mystery, or classics, that you were reading then? Do you miss them? I do. Did you give them away, or are they still with you? I wish I still had Sylvia Plath's Ariel, and The Bell Jar, which I read in my late teen's. My early Charles de Lint (and I had everything he wrote before I went to England), Stephen King, gone. So many books, that I let go of over the years, mostly due to my moving so often, I think. I would look at my books and think of what I hadn't read yet, and get rid of it if I hadn't (unless I knew I was going to read it shortly).

So how did I let them go? And why? I think I let them go - gave them away, put in boxes and then donated when I made one of my many many moves - because I thought I was done with them. I didn't understand in my 20's and even my 30's, that I would come back to them. If I was once interested in them, I would be again. I mean, I even went back and reread some of my earliest favourite Harlequin romances - they weren't as good the second time around, and that is the difference between being 13 and 28, I think!! It is like the spiral of psychological/spiritual growth - we finish with a problem, only to find we are dealing with it on a deeper level at another time. So I come back to books I read once, to read them on a deeper level, or from a different perspective or with more wisdom (I hope!) that life has given me.

I'm not talking about revisiting my childhood, or longing for the good old days. I want to read the books again, and see if my experience of them is the same, and what I remember, and if it's still good. I think, now, that because we moved so much through all my childhood and teen years, that I got used to leaving things behind, to getting rid of things if I wasn't actually using them, and I thought this applied to books too. I am beginning to think it doesn't. That for me, I do and will want to reread many of my favourites, and revisit authors I read long ago. So part of my desire to "own so many books my house might explode" isn't a material desire -"she who dies with the most books wins" sort of mentality - it's an understanding of myself that there will come a time when I will want to look at a book again, and I want it on my shelf instead of having to go out and buy it - again. Again being the key word....

So what books are essential in my library? I hear you asking...well, Gentle Reader, every book I've ever loved, ever liked. I do, like Bybee, have an Inner Bookworm, but alas mine isn't cool and tough like hers. Mine is literary and has leanings of pretension *sigh* it thinks I would look good in black and spouting poetry everywhere, and I have to keep convincing my inner Bookworm that I am NOT going back for my Master's and if I ever get published, I will NOT appear in all black and throw in the occasional French word just because I can....this is the same bookworm that wants me to read Jean-Paul Sartre and Goethe and yes, Virginia Woolf....so on occasion, pretentious books find their way on my shelves. I can say happily that Sylvia Plath had nothing to do with this inner bookworm; she belongs to the Dark and dangerous book self that I will deal with in another post (let's say that I understand Sylvia a little too well). I have many selves that have read books in the past - yikes, and that sounds a little like I should have the Three Faces of Eve or Sybil on my bookshelves too! - what I mean is, different books satisfy different parts of my soul. What I am learning is, I will return to those books again, sometime.

So, is this something any of you have experienced? Have your libraries changed over the years? did you ever give a book - or books- away and then find you wanted to read it again later? Have you ever thought you should get rid of some books, only to find you came back to them? I'd be curious to know if any other readers have discovered this tendency too. Maybe I'm the only one who has had to learn the hard way NOT TO GET RID OF BOOKS.

There is getting rid of what I don't need, and then there is living with my soul. So, in my world, I am learning I can never have too many books, to feed my soul and nurture my spirit, to turn to again and see what I loved the first time. Books like Anne of Green Gables, The Diary of Anne Frank, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, these are books I have carried with me almost everywhere I went. I can read and reread them, finding delight and sustenance every time I do. What I am learning is, now that I am in a permanent home, now that I am finally settled, I can let my shelves grow and expand, and among the new books I will buy, will be old favourites that I loved once upon a time. So my shelves will start to represent all of me, my history of books I have loved, over my lifetime. And I think that is what I really want. 20 years from now, I will re-read the books I am reading now, or the best of the ones I am reading now!! and any one I love, stays.


Becky said...

Loved this post, by the way.

I am rereading a lot of books this year. Some I read as a child; some I read as a teen.

I do somewhat regularly feel the need to reread my favorites. A year won't pass without me opening up Ender's Game, for example. That's probably the only-year book I've got at the moment.

Chronicles of Narnia is one that I keep coming back to again and again.

As to getting rid of books and later regretting it. It happens some. I did give away all my Babysitters Club and Gymnasts books. I do regret the decision. It was made because I didn't have *space* for the books. I still don't have space technically. But there are times when I want to have those comfort-books by me. I'm not saying that I haven't outgrown them. I have. If I read them as an adult, I might groan. But there is something about them that I can't forget.

I keep most of my books though. It takes a lot of work (pep talks?) for me to actually clear out some of my books. I just have the feeling that if I gave it away, without a doubt I'd have the urge to read it again at some point. Then I'd have to track down a copy again. And sometimes that's easy, sometimes not so much.

Susan said...

Becky: thanks! and your answers are perfect, what I'd imagined if someone was sitting across from me talking about this post!!
Between you and Chris you've made me realize it's time for Card again - he was among those authors i read everything by in the 1980's and 90's, gave it all away, and now i have to go back and reread Alvin since he's finally finishing the series (and I loved the first books!), and Ender's game I really liked but forget everything about it.....this was one of those books that seeing you and Chris talk about, made me start asking myself why I had had so many books at one time that I no longer do. So, I have to say you have done better than I have at keeping most of your books around you!!!

Jeane said...

Thus the appropriateness of you blog title: you can never have too many books!! I regret now the books I've given away when downsizing for moves, and am now slowly trying to acquire them all again. Periodically I like to re-read books I loved in my teenage years, and see them with fresh eyes. I always find/learn something new. Occasionally I discover I don't like the book anymore, it just doesn't say anything to me this time around. But that's rare. So if I like a book the first time, I usually aim to keep it for good, now. Nice post!

Rhinoa said...

I have to admit to finding it pretty much impossible to give books away. Even when I am sure I won't read them again, you just never know 100%. Hence having a million books in the house...

I am in my late 20's so haven't quite reached the going back and re-reading books form this age group yet, although I do plan on reading all of my Anne Rice books again in the near future (I got into her as a teenager but read her mostly in my early 20's). I have been known to revisit books from my childhood like the Anastasia series by Lois Lowry, The Faraway Tree and Wishing Chair books by Enid Blyton, The Worst Witch books by Jill Murphy and others.

At the moment I have so many books at home that I haven't read that I want to get around to before reading older books. Oh I also want to read the Redwall books again by Brian Jacques and read the final few I never got around to the first time.

DesLily said...

Oh my.. well, first off I think we know before we even finish a book we are reading that one day we will want to read this again!

I enjoy most all books I read.. but there's something inside you that knows those "special books".

I am in a "reread" stage right now.. it began the first of the year and I alternate new reads and rereads. And I've even had to replace some of those I am rereading because originally they were mass paperbacks and have turned brittle and brown! But I am loving my "favorites" this year!
One of the greatest things about it is... you KNOW you won't be disappointed!

I've reread these books more than once..and hope I'm around long enough to reread them yet again!

Lady P said...

Oh boy, does hubby know about this? You already have books EVERYWHERE...and you have to remember there are 3 (4, depending on the day & time) other people living in that house!! You simply have to leave room for them to have & hold their dearly loved collections of whatever. I can HEAR that gleam in your eye...oh, Toby...LOOK OUT!

I do try to hang on to books that I love and I do reread them. I get other things out of books when they are reread or even important information I missed the first time. I don't believe I have quite the same attraction to keeping them as you. I would enjoy having a library room where all books were kept, in order to retain tidyness in the rest of the house.

Daughter is much like her aunt though; she has collected several series already and keeps them in her room. She reads them over and over, takes notes...you name it! She is only 14 too; I never did that!

Bybee said...

If I've really loved the book, I've hung onto it or re-bought it. Otherwise, my collection is constantly in flux...I'm always re-evaluating what I have and feeling that for space reasons, I have to unload some stuff so I can feed my Inner Book Monster who can never get enough books. In a perfect world, I would have all my childhood books.

Bybee said...

I hear you about Sylvia Plath!

Anonymous said...

I really understand this feeling because I often find myself wanting to return to a book I read decades ago and unaccountably no longer seem to have. Even worse is the fact that these days our library service doesn't seem to hang on to books either, so getting hold of a copy can be very difficult.
I don't think there's anything wrong in going back like this. A major factor in any reading experience is the person who is reading the book and twenty years on you as reader are going to be a very different person. The reading will likewise be different and may give you so much more than the previous one.

Chris said...

I related to this post so well! I'm guilty of doing the same thing...getting rid of my books from the past, and I'll never do it again...even if I become that old man who gets lost in a house full of books. I'm going through a cycle currently actually of rereading books from my childhood like the Narnia books and Wrinkle in time, and Misery by Stephen King (yes I realize that's not a staple for children :p) But I had originally discarded all of these books. I also used to be a big Anne Rice fan and then thought those books were silly, so I gave them away...now I'm enjoying them again and regret ever getting rid of them, so I had to rebuy them all. This is part of the reason that I don't really use the library...I just have to own books after I read them! I can't give them back...so I just buy them and hang on to them. Great post Susan!

Nymeth said...

I love this post too.

I have been craving some time for re-reading lately...I think it's time to revisit some of my old favourites.

It was only recently that I begun to get rid of books via Bookmooch. Most of them are books I'm fairly certain I won't want to read again, but of course there's always the possibility of regretting it later. But if that happens I guess I can always get new copies.

Emily Barton said...

This one is screaming for a post of its own, but then, I have yet to post on my favorite fairy tale, which I said I was going to do weeks ago. Maybe I can figure out a way to combine the two posts? We'll see. The short answer however is: Yes. I like to re-read things and see how I react to them now, and also, yes, I have given away books only to regret having done so when I suddenly decide I want to re-read them.

P.S. If you haven't already read it, you might like Anne Fadiman's REREADINGS.

Eva said...

I grew up moving, but I negotiated with my parents and they let me keep most of my books (I had to give up most of my stuffed animals and nick-nacks). So, I've still got a bunch of books in boxes from my childhood. But lately, I've been thinking about this too, since my ideal career will have my moving every two or three years.

So, nowadays, when I read a book and decide whether or not to keep it, I ask myself two questions: will I ever want to reread it? and does it fit into my Future Library? (this is a nebulous concept I have in my head, and it's related to my Ideal Future Self) As long as I answer yes to at least one of those, I try to find space for it. If not, I put it on bookmooch. I've given up a few bookmooch books that I regret a bit (I've given over a hundred, so perhaps that's only to be expected), so now I put the book on my 'bookmooch shelf' for a week or two before I list it. Then, if I don't miss it, it's good to go. BUT, I'm reaching the point where I have too many books for my shelves, and that makes me very frustrated, since I'm a naturally messy person. So, if everything doesn't have its place, it ends up making my room a wreck! When I live on my own, I figure it won't be as a big of a problem (I can just buy bookshelves), but then there's the issue of actually packing/moving all of those books. *sigh* It's enough to make me want a sedentary life!

I just turned 22, so the only rereading cycle I do are childhood favourites, which I've been doing quite a bit of recently. It's interesting, if a bit nerve-wracking (I probably won't reread my Nancy Drews or Animorphs because they'll probably seem silly, and I don't want my memories tainted).