Wednesday, July 30, 2008

second time around

I've never understood the need to watch a film more than once. People who own movies confound me. There's only so much time we are given in life, shouldn't we use it to learn/experience something new? I've also felt the same way about books. Or at least I used to. In fact, before this summer, I think the only book I had ever read twice was Anna Karenina.

I've had a hard time starting and finishing books over the past year or so. My mind wanders. Or I'm not interested in the characters and their mundane problems. Or there's not enough sex. Or there's too much plot. Or I'm half way through and can already see the end, and it's either happily ever after or a train wreck so there's no sense in going on.

This summer, in order to stave off the fear that I will never finish another book, I decided to abandon any possibility of a new novel, and revisit some of my favorites. Ones I know I actually finished once upon a time, and enjoyed. Ones I know fundamentally changed the way I saw the world and/or my place in it. I wanted to read the books I read when I was 11 or 23.

The first book I picked up was The Hobbit. It was fun. And funny. I had forgotten, in all of the Lord of the Rings-movie-big-battle-hype, how funny and sweet Tolkien was in that first little adventure. I fell in love with Bilbo Baggins all over again.

The next book I picked up (and just finished this morning) was Jitterbug Perfume. If you are a Tom Robbins fan, you'll know why. What I remember, from being in my early 20's, was that Jitterbug Perfume fundamentally awakened in me something I already knew. It was like Tom Robbins took what was already in my heart and soul, and put it on paper. Jitterbug Perfume values mythology over reality, the magical over the mundane, and manages to bring together history, metaphor, religion, politics, philosophy, sex, immortality, and, yes, dancing and perfume into one big gigantic soup of individual liberty and otherworldly/othertimely possibilities. Anyone who doesn't like this book is really not eligible to be my friend.

Next up on the list: The Dark is Rising Series by Susan Cooper. I read them when I was in 6th grade. I can't wait to read them again and find out why I loved them so much.

What books did you love when you were 11?
What books did you love when you were 23?

Tell me this, and I will know who you are.

11 comments:

suesun said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kirsten said...

When I was 11, Harriet the Spy. Forget the movie, read the book. Author Louise Fitzhugh had a voice that wouldn't be amiss in New Yorker magazine, worlds away from my Alaska childhood. Island of the Blue Dolphins - self-sufficient adventures of a teenage girl who chooses to stay behind when her tribe leave their Island off the California coast. She has to learn to fish and hunt for herself. At 23 I remember that I read voraciously at the time - but can't remember just what! I do remember that I wrote a dissertation on The Booke of Margery Kempe, a sometimes unintentionally comic late-medieval would-be saint. I loved the detail: she and her husband go on a long walk carrying ale and cakes in their bosoms. She has a lengthy meditation where she imagines herself making Mary a nice hot cuppa after the birth of Christ. And she's tormented by lust, having negotiated a life of chastity with her husband (doesn't sound like she gave the poor man much choice) after givinghim 14 children. Oh, and when she goes to the Holy Land on pilgrimage, the other pilgrims play practical jokes on her on the ship, then contrive to lose her before the return journey.

Jim Thomsen said...

You rock, Kirsten.

One of my favorites at 11 was "Sport," by Louise Fitzhugh, featuring Harriet as a supporting character.

At 11, I also loved the Encyclopedia Brown solve-them-yourself mysteries, The Three Investigators mysteries and a series of young-adult books about boys (and occasionally girls) and athletics by Thomas Dygard. I also loved the "Mutiny On The Bounty" trilogy, and a series of young-adult stories set in Revolutionary War times by the Collier brothers.

At 23, I was heavily into Stephen King, who I think is the greatest storyteller in American literary history. I also loved Stephen Dobyns, who curiously published volumes of poetry in between literary thrillers and a genre-mystery series based in Saratoga Springs.

I understand why people own books and movies, and why they watch and read them over again. The greatest stories work well on several levels, and it often takes several readings/viewings to get everything there is to get from the story. I've seen "Goodfellas" several times, for instance, but always get something new out of the ninth or tenth or eleventh viewing that I didn't get before.

Beyond that, there's the comfort-food aspect. Some days you don't want to try out a new recipe; you just want to make a grilled-cheese sandwich and hit the lawn chair on the back porch. And some days, you just want to reach on the bookshelf for an old friend whose pleasures are warm and comfortable precisely because they're so familiar.

It's like being married, I imagine. A husband and wife may have little new to offer one another in the bedroom or in terms of romance after so many years together ... but sometimes the comfort of predictability is exactly what satisfies like nothing else. Or am I wrong about that?

I bet most lovers of books and movies describe themselves as just that because they do indeed love a great story ... perhaps just as many of those same people love their spouse.

Friar Tuck said...

Rifles for Watie and other civil war stuff. Also Chronicles of Narnia at 11.

I will have to think about when I was 23. I was so busy with my masters degree.....

citizen of the world said...

Wrinkle in Time. And it started me on a fantasy/sci fi kick that lasted into college. n 5th grade I read the Hobbit, and then the rest of the Tolkien series. At that age I was reading ALL the time.

suesun said...

Kirs - there was a GREAT radio program on Harriet the Spy on NPR several months ago. Maybe it's a podcast somewhere?
Jim - yes, Kirsten rocks.
Friar - did you ever read Johnny Tremain? Revolutionary War, but still.....
Citizen - A Wrinkle in Time. Yes. I cried (and blogged about it!) when Madeline L'Engle passed. I think it set us all on a course, that one.

Jim Thomsen said...

The Revolutionary War book that grabbed me at 11 was called "My Brother Sam Is Dead."

There's also another favorite, set in the Dutch colonies of upstate New York in the early 1700s, called "The Matchlock Gun."

Kirsten said...

Oh, wow, I'll have to find the podcast. I'd forgotton about the Encyclopedia Brown books - I loved them! Maybe it had to do with having glasses and not being good at sports - Encyclopedia always beat the bullies and gained respect using brains not brawn. I'll try the Matchlock Gun on my own kids - though the 12 year old has just ditched kids' books and is starting on Catcher in the Rye and suchlike. Can't remember the precise quote or where it comes from, Jim, but it's somehting like, Whoever reads a book only once is always condemmed to read the same book. I think your marriage anology works here - an endless succession of one-night stands would become a paradoxically flat and monotonous experience, as opposed to making new discoveries about one person.

John said...

JP was really great. It is a rare book that feels simultaneously important and at the same time is a whole lot of fun to read. So much of what I read feels academic and dry. JP takes the thoughtfulness of an "important book" and mixes it with a sexy adventure. Wonderful.

Meg said...

at 11, i loved the Little House on the Prairie series. at 23, i was obsessed with all things dystopian (1984, Brave New World, Stranger in a Strange Land, etc).

i suppose that it makes sense that we're planning to go off-grid and live like homesteaders... just hope we have enough time to get there before the shit goes down.

Gary Gillis said...

At thirteen, I was a big Stephen King fan: Salem's Lot and The Stand kept me up well past my bed-time many nights (and probably built the foundation for my love of horror movies). I also have fond memories of reading a good chunk of the Lord of the Rings series while on an extended family vacation (I can't remember where, but I recall my parents being nonplussed by the fact that I wanted nothing to do with their various ventures and instead chose to stay in our hotel room and read...)
At twenty three I was just starting graduate school and read one of my favorite books to date, John Barth's The Floating Opera--such a crazy-wonderful book. A bit over the top upon re-reading, but a real eye-opener for me, leading me to read more John Barth than necessary. Other reads around that time that I recall well are Philip Roth's Goodbye Columbus, a short novella that captures the essence of summer love (and loss), John Irving's The Water Method Man, which captures the essence of a male urinary tract infection among many other things, Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day (did I mention love and loss) and Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night.

Now you've done it, I'm going to have to spend (waste?) several hours this weekend re-reading sections of all these darn books.