The Bittersweetness of Books You Love

I have a particular memory from high school about time. I must have been in ninth grade at the time and was sitting in a school assembly (probably about sports). Suddenly I was struck by the knowledge that time was rushing by and there was no way to stop it. Every second passed without the universe particularly caring about me, and eventually I’d be old and die and that would be that. And every second that passed was one that I couldn’t get back. I could never be four again, or seven, or twelve. I felt a kind of homesickness for those ages, knowing I could never return.

You can tell why I’m obsessed with Our Town, right?

Sometimes I feel like this about books. At any given time, I have dozens of books on my to-read list. I have a lot to look forward to, and there are always more wonderful books coming out. But sometimes I feel kind of sad when I think about the books I’ve read and loved. There’s a particular joy that comes from reading a beloved book for the first time. You’re deeply invested in the characters’ world; you’re captivated by every plot turn; images are arresting. Rereading is wonderful and I return to favorite books every so often (I used to reread all the time), but it’s a very different experience than that first read. You live differently when you’re reading a book for the first time.

Like wishing I could go back to being seven, sometimes I wish I could read certain books again for the first time, or at least revisit that first reading experience. Like the first time I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (10th grade, November, with the Ever After soundtrack on loop) or The Giver (7th grade, winter, curled up on the bedroom floor). Most recently I’ve been wistful about Jellicoe Road, which I read during the 48 Hour Book Challenge and which I’m sure I’ll reread in the near future.

Maybe this means I need to slow down and savor my reading experiences more. Or maybe this means I need to increase my reading time so I come across more books that make me feel wistful at the end. Or maybe this is just the life of a reader–having to say goodbye to every book you finish.

Of course, this is also probably why I get excited when friends start books I love. That’s probably the closest thing I can think of to getting that first reading experience back. You say, “So what part are you at?” and they say “The scene with the tree!” And you say “OH MY GOSH I KNOW, ALL THE FEELINGS?!” For a moment you get to be swept back into that flood of emotions.

So if you tell me you haven’t read Harry Potter, don’t feel bad if I tell you that we have to stop whatever we’re doing so you can sit and read the whole series and talk about it with me. It just means that I remember that great first reading experience and want to share it with you.

(image: Julie Falk)

3 thoughts on “The Bittersweetness of Books You Love

  1. Yes. I remember when I first read The Giver too… it was 8th grade for me, and I was curled up in my bed in the bedroom that used to be the front porch. Remembering the first time I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is easy because it was just a couple years ago. I avoided HP for years but finally cracked, and I’m so happy I did. I’m currently reading the series a second time through and experiencing all the “I’ll never read this again for the first time” feelings. I’m near the end of Half-Blood Prince. So different the second time through.

    I also remember reading Ramona Quimby, Age 8 when I was eight and wanted to be eight years old forever. I was convinced that eight was the best age to ever be. I was sick one day and was reading about when she had to go home sick from school because she threw up. I remember reading the Anastasia books by Lois Lowry all one summer and discovering that they were set in Cambridge and wanting to go walking around and pretending I would meet Anastasia in my wanderings.

  2. Here, here. I remember doing the same things when I was a wee tyke. I was such an avid reader of books – any book, really. Maybe I didn’t have much of a social life, but that didn’t worry me as I felt like my only friends were the authors of the books that I read. From Robin Klein, to Paul Jennings, to Graeme Base, Roald Dahl, Emily Rodda and any mystery novellist like Agatha Christie and Dean Koontz. Yes, I read novels when I was little boy! Sadly, most of the books I most enjoyed reading and re-reading have been lost in the many moves I have made since and I have been unable to locate them on the net which does leave me glum at times. My all-time favourite book was called “The Hunters” – which was a look at the animal food chain. Haven’t seen that since I was about 12 – which was nearly two decades ago now. My fave book that I still own is called “What Dog is That?”, which I have had since I was about eight. It is what the title says it is. I got it from my Mum and Dad for a birthday.
    I also remember doing a 48-hour reading challenge when I was in Year 2 – it was for the National Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, and you had to raise some money and read any number of books in that 2 day period. I read, if I can recall correctly, about 150 books in that time. And, I did read them, too. Most of those books that I read I still enjoy consuming even now. I also raised $250 for that challenge.
    Reading still consumes my life even now. Maybe not as much as back then, but it’s still an all-consuming passion at times.

  3. Good article. I too love to reread old favorites, but I’ve come to accept that a fond memory is the closest I’ll come to recapturing that “first read” feeling. You can’t go home again, because you’ve grown as a person in the meantime. And that’s OK.

    Extend this out a decade or two, and you’ll find that some books hold up better than others over time. Some that really spoke to me as a teenager or a college student, for example, now make me glad I read them when I did instead of now. Other books reveal new aspects of themselves as my life experiences allow me to understand them. They get better over time, so to speak.

    Fortunately, I tend to forget 95% of everything I read (and watch, and discuss with my spouse, etc. Maybe it’s the knowledge that I can always turn to Evernote, Google, or my bookshelves to find any information I used to know.) Therefore, I remember that I really liked a book, but I’ve forgotten pretty much all of it apart from “that’s the one in which Travis McGee investigates a stamp collector and hurts his knees jumping out of a balloon.” This is a tremendous gift, as I already know I’ll like a book before reading it for the second “first” time. You could describe my superpower, therefore, as perpetual childlike wonder. :^)

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