Thursday, November 18, 2010

Am I getting older or are they getting younger?

Half a lifetime ago, I read Robert James Waller’s BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY.

It’s the story of a lonely 1960s housewife swept off her feet by a National Geographic photographer doing a photo essay on covered bridges. Stop reading now if you don’t want to know the book ends with the housewife halting her affair with the photographer and staying in a loveless marriage.

When I read it at 18, I was irritated the heroine had an affair in the first place.

When I read it again at 21 with a bit more life experience under my belt, I was irritated at her for staying with the douchebag husband instead of running off with the photographer.

When I read it again in my early 30s, I was just irritated by the writing.

Here is where you ask why the hell I kept rereading a book that irritated me, and I tell you that’s a very good question and offer you a drink so you don’t notice I failed to answer.

It’s an interesting thing to ponder though – not my poor reading habits, but the fact that we read books differently as we filter them through life experience and age.

A friend of mine is reading Diana Gabaldon’s OUTLANDER for the second time. It’s one of my very favorite books, and I asked what she thought of it on this round. She remarked that she never realized how young the swoon-worthy hero is. He’s 23 or 24, but since my friend was about that age when she first read it, his age never registered.

Now 31, she’s flummoxed to find herself lusting for a much younger man.

It’s a fascinating perspective, since OUTLANDER’s heroine is older than the hero anyway. Is the story more enthralling when you truly are the older woman? I’m curious.

Curious enough that I’ll probably read the book again just to find out. I was 27 the first time I read it, and though it made me delirious with lust back then, I’m intrigued by how I might respond now.

It also makes me wonder how my perspective as an author will evolve. I was 28 when I took my first stab at writing romance. I’m now 36, and I don’t think I’ve changed all that much. Some of my characters are older, and my writing has certainly improved, but I can’t pinpoint any earth-shattering changes in perspective.

Then again, give me 10 more years. At 46 I might look back at my younger author self and wonder, “what the hell were you thinking?”

Do you reread books from a different perspective with age or life experience as a filter? Do those things impact your writing? I’m intrigued by the idea, so please share.

I have to go hang a “do not disturb” sign on the door while I find my copy of OUTLANDER.

32 comments :

Claire Dawn said...

I've only recently started this whole re-reading thing. Before this year I'd never been in interested in reading the same book twice.

But I read To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time as an adult, and it blew my mind. And I remember thinking if I'd had to read it in school I'd have probably hated it.

SO I think the perspective definitely changes.

Sarah W said...

My reactions to Harold and the Purple Crayon are pretty much the same then and now. . . but Jennifer Crusie's Anyone But You is even better now that I'm Nina's age.

Especially that bit where she says, "But everything's lower than it used to be," and Alex, her ten-year-younger man replies, "I don't care if it's on the floor. I want you naked, now."

Oh, yeah. . .

Matthew Rush said...

You people are all a bunch of cougars. Just kidding.

Seriously though? I know my perspective as a reader has changed. I'm 33 now, but even not that many years ago I would have been bored to tears by romance. Now I like it, as long as it's a subplot behind sword fights, explosions, dragons, crime, magic, gun fights, thievery, car chases, kinky sex, monkeys, wizardry, talking animals, archery, kung-fu, other martial arts ...

... wait, what were we talking about again?

Debs Riccio said...

...still just falling in love again with the word *flummoxed*... I've NEVER re-read a book. Maybe I should. I re-watch movies that I love. Why not books too?

Summer said...

I didn't read Catcher in the Rye until my senior year of college. I recognized its merit and enjoyed the book, but it didn't sing to me. I didn't identify it and wear it in my pants pocket and feel all estranged from society yet pompous.

I think I was too old.

As for the others...well, I'm still in the young phase, I guess, but I'm a frequent re-reader.

I also have Outlander on my Kindle, but I've never read it. Yet.

Anne Gallagher said...

There's definitely something to be said about re-reading. I recently finished The Great Gatsby, first time in college. What a difference two decades make.

I also find looking at my earlier writing, I must have been tripping on acid when I wrote most of it. It's that bad.

Lauren K said...

I first read The Catcher in the Rye when I was 12. I thought it was one of the worst books I'd ever read. I reread it when I was about 16 and I thought it was brilliant. When I reread it at 20 or so it was good, but Holden and I just weren't on the same wavelength anymore.

Teri Anne Stanley said...

Ha! I just read Outlander for the first time, and I decided not to feel like a cougar over our boy Jamie because a) he'd be like 500 years old now, and b) life expectancy was like, what? 30? back then, so he was actually probably elderly by Men In Kilts standards. and c) who cares? He's hot!

I'm ancient enough that the movie Grease came out when I was 12. It was funny and we quoted everything in it all the time and sang all the songs. I watched it again with my kids a couple of weeks ago, and OMG! What were my parents thinking, letting me watch that movie????

Patty Blount said...

What a good question. I admit, I've not paid attention to this.

I love to re-read stories. For me, it's like hanging out with an old friend. When I was a teen, I adored the Harlequin Presents line and remember reading this book called The Awakening of Alice. I thought the hero was the hottest man alive.

I recently found a worn copy at a garage sale and was dismayed to realize upon re-reading it that th hero was a deranged kidnapper flirting with the idea of rape.

I should go call a therapist now.

Kristina said...

Wonderful to get folks thinking about our relationship with a text & the nature of our own lens...

Back when I was a lit teacher, there was way more re-reading of texts than I cared for...but you can image what nuances I found in G.G.Marquez' One Hundred Years of Solutide the ninth time. It was great to see what I was able to "see" with each read - the text never changed but I did.

I do admit that I'm fond of curling up with JR Ward's hot vampires and a cup of coffee. The heat on the page keeps my, ahem, coffee nice and warm. ;)

KTRichie said...

I like rereading books specifically to see how my perspective has changed. Every time I reread a book, I find something in it that I missed before. Since the story is already familiar, it’s easier to focus on the little details that I might have overlooked.

I think age and life experience have a huge impact on my writing. Not only do I have more personal experience to draw from, but I also have more knowledge.

Danica Avet said...

Oh most definitely! I actually did a lot of thinking about this (surprise!) because I reread one of my favorite books when I was in high school. I started off reading Barbara Cartland romances when I was about 13 or 14. I couldn't get enough of them. The heroine, trapped in a horrible engagement/with an overbearing father/kidnapped/etc. you get the idea.

I read one of those books last year and was like WTF, get off your butt and rescue yourself! I realized that when I was younger, I liked the idea of being rescued. Loved it, in fact. Now that I'm in my 30's (still single) and very independent, I'm like 'Girlfriend, pull up your big girl panties and get the job done yourself!' And now that I'm writing, though I've tried to write a damsel in distress, I can't. It won't work. My heroines are always tough, rough, and curse like sailors. They don't need to be saved and in some cases, they're the ones saving the hero!

I am woman hear me roar?

Never2Late said...

Geez, Louise, don't you people ever sleep??? It always cracks me up to see your posting times.

I'm a long-time lurker and fan of this site. I gotta say, if the quality of your blogs is any indication of how good your books are, you're gonna be a star.

Anyhow, yes, I've always done a lot of rereading, and it's astounding how much perspective can change over the years. Loved books like "Jane Eyre", "The Ivy Tree", and "The Cry and the Covenant" when I was young, but now, not so much.

I think what makes any book special is its capacity to strike a resonant chord with its readers by creating characters and stories we can empathize with, or capture our imaginations by exposing us to something new and exciting. Y'know, take us away from the humdrum world. Entertain us.

Then again, it's not really all that surprising that our tastes in reading can change. (Not too many adults are fans of knock-knock jokes or Beavis and Butthead ...)

As for "The Bridges of Madison County", what bugged me about that book is how sappy it was, how insanely fast the author wrote it, and how wildly popular it became. Me, I agonize over every word, every rhythm, every punctuation mark. Sour grapes, I reckon.

I'm probably older than your parents, but I really look forward to your blogs. Keep up the good work.

Susan

Christina Auret said...

I started rereading at a early age, due to a limited public library and a 7+ book a week habit. (I had access to 7 to 9 cards and I sometimes got books twice a week. I read a lot of good books in high school and most of my teachers probably hated me for it.)

My feelings on rereading are as follows: Some books I could only fully appreciate at the right age, some books were better the second time around and some books I will need to reread every 5 years to appreciate all the things I did not notice the last time through simply because I had not lived long enough.

Enid Blyton falls into the first category. I think everyone under the age of 12 should read everything she has written and no one over the age of 12 should touch her stuff with a 5 foot pole. Obviously some things work the other way around. The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever were a bad choice for a 14 year old and my English teacher was pretty fervent in her opinion that The Secret life of Walter Mitty was wasted on 15 year olds.

I read The Lord of the Rings when I was 13 and again when I was 17. I think 13 is about the perfect age to read it for the first time, but while I did not experience the same heady rush on my second read, I do think I got a lot more out of the experience. Things like the scouring of the shire and the bits in the gardens of healing made a much bigger impression on me when I was 17.

The last category of books, the ones you have to reread every 5 years, is the one I can't really define. I am only 25 so I still have a lot of reading to do before I will know which titles stand the test of time. It does look like The Bridges of Madison County is one of Tawna's reread books. :P

Douglas Morrison said...

How we do change our observations.

For me, I find my "look backs" into favored books rewarding. When I pick up Harper Lee's masterpiece, the writing holds me due to subject as much as for the characters. I believe that is what shifts in all of us.

Wisdom can come through challenged opinion. What we found as thought provoking when we were young may not have changed, yet our fealty to views may have shifted in importance. But what entertains us definitely changes.

My preference for historical fiction has never waivered and why those books can be picked up at any time, and I still thoroughly enjoy each.

I found a book I thought was absolutely the finest literary work of all time, "The Mad Scientists Club"... I was 9 years old when I read it. No matter how pedestrian the writing is to me now, I still enjoyed the memories of the simplier times, laying on my upper bunk bed reading. Then there was all the failed experiments the book inspired that nearly burned down the family home when I tried them... Good Times...

P.S. - I agree with never2late Tawna. Your words are special indeed.

Linda G. said...

I do read books from a different perspective now that I'm older, but not in a negative way. If the MC is much younger or older than I am, I find it fun to slide into the different age for a while. Guess I'm an all-too-willing suspender of disbelief. ;)

Same goes for my writing. I love to experience characters of all ages--keeps things interesting for me.

Oh, and Jamie is just as hot now as he was when I was younger. Of course, he's "aged" quite nicely in the later books, too.

Elizabeth McKenzie said...

I find it interesting that you would read a book more than once when there are so many books out there. Ive only ever read a book twice once.

The other thing is, yes you whole perspective changes as you age. Now, I didn't write when I was young, dangit, but at my advanced age, I feel like my remantic self and my adventure self are in tact. That never changes.

Great post, thank you.

Ricky Bush said...

I read very few books a second time. I have re-read some authors, such as Hemingway, Steinbeck or Fitzgerald, who's books were assigned reading in high school or early college, and I failed to appreciate them back then.

Michelle Wolfson said...

I find it completely astonishing that anyone does NOT reread books and even more, that you think WE are the strange ones!! If you think about it, we lay the groundwork for rereading early on by reading the same books to our kids countless times. What parent hasn't wanted to hide certain books because they were so sick of them? In fact, the only books we don't read more than once to our kids are the ones that, quite frankly, stink.

I've been a chronic rereader since childhood and even with all the reading I do for my job, I still devour books by the dozen and reread whole books and favorite parts
Countless times. The books can range from the trashiest bit of fun to some highbrow bit of stuff although I confess that my taste for commercial fiction runs over into my rereading habits. Think of it like your favorite sitcoms going into syndication. Who gets tired of watching/reading something you've seen before but is still pure entertaining fun.

I could do my own blog post on my rereading habits-the dos an don'ts, the why's and wherefores but you've all covered so much. I just had to put in my plug for shameless entertainment. IMO, that's a perfectly good reason to read. And to reread. And it's an EXCELLENT reason to read Tawna's books when they
Come out. :)

Not that I'm biased or anything.

Michelle Wolfson said...

I find it completely astonishing that anyone does NOT reread books and even more, that you think WE are the strange ones!! If you think about it, we lay the groundwork for rereading early on by reading the same books to our kids countless times. What parent hasn't wanted to hide certain books because they were so sick of them? In fact, the only books we don't read more than once to our kids are the ones that, quite frankly, stink.

I've been a chronic rereader since childhood and even with all the reading I do for my job, I still devour books by the dozen and reread whole books and favorite parts
Countless times. The books can range from the trashiest bit of fun to some highbrow bit of stuff although I confess that my taste for commercial fiction runs over into my rereading habits. Think of it like your favorite sitcoms going into syndication. Who gets tired of watching/reading something you've seen before but is still pure entertaining fun.

I could do my own blog post on my rereading habits-the dos an don'ts, the why's and wherefores but you've all covered so much. I just had to put in my plug for shameless entertainment. IMO, that's a perfectly good reason to read. And to reread. And it's an EXCELLENT reason to read Tawna's books when they
Come out. :)

Not that I'm biased or anything.

LS said...

The first time I read Angel of Darkness by Caleb Carr, I remember being disappointed in it since it wasn't The Alienist. Last year, I picked it up again because I couldn't find my copy of The Alienist.
I cried like a little girl. AND I KNEW THE SCENE WAS COMING! I was too busy comparing Angel of Darkness to The Alienist the first time around that I didn't see the beauty in the story.
Rereading can be a great thing.
It can also be a bad thing when you read a book you loved and realize it actually kinda sucks now.

Nicole Zoltack said...

I love Outlander! I was 23 when I first read it so I didn't pat an eye when I learned Jamie's age. I did find it interesting that the heroine was older.

Jeannie Moon said...

I re-read all the time, and other than finding I am less forgiving of marginal writing, the only major thing that has altered my perception of a book is having read it before or after I had kids. If children are involved in a story, that dramatically changed my perspective.

As far as Jamie in Outlander? I might have been 40 when I read the book the first time. I lusted after him shamelessly. I re-read the book last summer and nothing had changed. He's all kinds of yummy. Just call me Cougar.

terripatrick said...

Nope, age has nothing to do with how a book gets us, it is life experience that changes our perspective.

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings is my chronically reread series. I always begin with The Hobbit and continue all the way through to the appendixes. It's usually winter when I do this though not every winter, sometimes there are a few years between readings. It takes about a week. I love it every time, and every time I connect to something different.

Hmm, I've only read it once this past decade. It must be time.

Janet Aldrich (tec4) said...

I can't imagine not rereading. I read Lord of the Rings for the first time when I was 16. I've read it every year since and I'm a lot older than 16 now. Same with Narnia and the first three Dune books (especially the original).

Bring me something new and I'll read that, too. I'm not against finding new authors and titles. I just like my old friends, and that's what rereading is like for me -- catching up with an old friend.

Denise Nielsen said...

I re-read ALL the time. I have a list of books I read pretty much annually - starting with the Outlander series (As a matter of fact, I just did a blog post in which Jamie features as my all-time biggest literary crush). I think you do get different things out of them at different times, and so I will even re-read books I didn't like in the past.

By the way, did you ever read The Ditches of Edison COunty - a very funny parody of Bridges. Bwa-ha-ha.

Mark Simpson said...

For years I have been carting around a tub of books, the cumulative assigned reading from my college Lit program. I kept them because even as I was plowing through the courses, sometimes reading (skimming) three at once, I knew I wasn't giving them proper attention. My memory of most of them is a jumble.

I still think Yossarian might have been fly-fishing with Paul Mclean---or maybe Paul flew B-24s over Italy. (Translation: I was drunk most of the time and didn't really give a shit as long as I remained academically eligible with the NCAA.)

I did get to a few before they were destroyed when my garage flooded, and my perspective definitely changed.

At least that's one way to put it. Another way to put it is that I am much more savvy now and catch much more of what the authors intended. Still another way to put it is that back then I was kind of an idiot.

My favorite re-read was Hemingway's "For Whom the Bell Tolls." When first assigned in high school I spend most of the book trying to wrap my arms around what the hell a fascist was, in college it was the romance. (and still the best sex scene ever written, as far as I can tell.)

A recent reread struck me with not only the brilliant characters and circumstance, but Robert Jordan's place in the Spanish Civil War, and that settings place in history.

Previously it struck me as an interesting but globally insignificant local event, but now I fully grasp its significance as a prelude to WWII.

One thing didn't change though: The sex scene with Robert and Maria still rocks.

Sierra Godfrey said...

This is a great, thought provoking post and I'm sorry I'm a day late! I have thought the same things about Outlander. I read it for the first time when I was 28 or so and was put off by Claire's older age, but I chalked it up to me being ridiculously and inexplicably old fashioned about such things. But it still worked for me.

This read-it-at-different-times-get-different-perspectives is one of my most favorite things about books I love, and in particular I love doing this with my all time favorite book, Rosamunde Pilcher's Coming Home. I only allow myself to read it once every 5 years because that way I can be assured of forgetting certain parts, but also having a different perspective.

When I'm 80, that book will be a well-rounded (and dog eared) story to me. :)

Matthew AT Banning said...

I always reread books. I often find that I understand the content better once I reread it.

There are things I usually miss and I'm usually waiting for the next book in the series to come out so by the time it does, I've forgotten most of the previous book. Plus, I don't really feel like going back and rereading the previous book to get up to date with this one!

I know I've deffinitely gone back a couple months later and thought, "What was I THINKING??!!!"

I also have this irritating habit of which I put off creating names for alternate worlds and such. I finally fixed that by getting out the old Scrabble board and borrowing the letters. :D works very nicely!

Brandi Guthrie-Sellers said...

I used to love Cassie Edwards "Savage" books. I snuck a peak at one through Amazon and about gagged. Wow, I had bad (and raunchy) taste when I was 15.

lora96 said...

I'm a perennial rereader and offer the following example:

DH and I read books to each other, sharing novels that we love or loved in the past. When I read him Gone with the Wind, which I loved as an eleven year old because it was sooo dramatic, I kept stopping to apologize.
The racial language is appalling whether it's historically accurate or not, and Scarlett is just the shittiest mother. I also had a crush on Rhett from ages 11 to 15. Revisiting it at 31 I was all, Brute! Con man! Loserrrr!

When I reread Wuthering Heights I had angst overdose...no longer think it's so romantic. Meanwhile I adore Jane Eyre more with each passing year.

I read outlander and ranted about it quite a bit. Jamie Fraser's timeless and immutable hotness notwithstanding, I could not handle all the detail of his rape and torture. Sorry--it gave me nightmares.

pensees said...

Outlander is my fave book of all time so Jamie is forever etched in my memory, ageless, perfection.

Still, I know just what you mean about perspectives shifting over time. I watched the movie Parenthood as a teen and thought it was stupid. I watched it again as a parent and it made so much more sense!