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.