I believe that you change a tiny bit after every book you read. I mean literally change who you are; grow a little or happily regress a little or sometimes a lot. I have had a book in my hand since I learned how to read at four. I also read books over and over again, and feel differently about them each time. I think that I have read Franny and Zooey about ten times and Pride and Prejudice at least that many – and I never fail to cry at the end of both, even though you would think I know what’s coming. I can be unhappy or searching and pick up Letters to a Young Poet and turn to exactly the right place and feel instantly better. I just named three fairly respected works, but the truth is that I will read almost anything (except Twilight). And I can get the same effect from reading a book by Marian Keyes as drinking a glass of wine. Obviously… it’s all even better when you do them at the same time.
There is a great line in the movie You’ve Got Mail where she says “when you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does” and I fully agree with this. Even now I love young adult books, and I still have all of my favorite books in my bookshelf to be taken out and dosed as medicine for life. When I was a child I read every book by Beverley Cleary, and then Judy Blume, and then Madeleine L’Engle, and then J.R.R. Tolkien and then Jane Austen and then F. Scott Fitzgerald. I read every adventure of the Great Brain, Encyclopedia Brown, Hercule Poirot and Nancy Drew. I would have done anything for an actual mystery to solve in my boring little suburban life, but I generally had to restrict my sleuthing to going through my sister’s drawers and reading letters from boys. At least she was getting letters from boys… In the summer my mom would take me to the library every Wednesday and I would check out ten books (random limit set by some awful Bookman-type library police) and I couldn’t wait to dive in. I was probably the only kid I know that was being told to stop reading and go outside and play. Luckily for me, out back under a tree with a book is a perfect little loophole we could all live with.
I am a huge fan of JK Rowling, and thought every Harry Potter book was better than the last, until the final book which was simply a masterpiece. I would do anything to be able to write like that. The other day I was talking to a friend who told me her son just started reading the first Harry Potter and I literally got jealous. Of a six year old. Because he has seven Harry Potter books to discover and I won’t ever do that again. I sometimes have panicky thoughts about the fact that even if it is all I do the rest of my life, I will never read every book I want. Today I read that EL Konigsburg has died. She is the author of two of my most beloved childhood books, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth. I can’t tell you how much I loved the first, and how much I wanted to be Claudia Kincaid, who decided to run away from home and live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She brings her brother (and his piggy bank) along for the ride, and it is such a funny, plausible, amazing story that I have read it about ten times. It very much spoke to the part of me, at seven years old, that yearned to be entirely on my own.
I just finished a book called Life After Life by Kate Atkinson and an interesting thing is happening to me. Normally, once I finish a book I immediately pick up the next but for some reason, even though I finished it four days ago, I have not started another. If you have not read anything by her, immediately go read Case Histories, one of my all-time favorite books, it is incredible. I am having a hard time even explaining what Life After Life is about, (there is a much better review by a much better writer on NPR’s book website) but it is towering and complicated and I loved it. And I guess I just don’t want to be finished with it yet.