I can’t remember what grade I was in when I read A Separate Peace. 7th grade? 8th grade? What I do remember is how much I LOVED the book. Just loved it. I loved the first person voice. I loved that it was tragic. Oh, Phineas and Gene who introduced me to the coming-of-age novels that held my interest for far too long.
Years passed, and eventually all I could remember about the book was that I had LOVED it, that it was tragic, that a tree was somehow involved. So when my son came home from school a few years ago with a copy of that book sticking out of his backpack, I was thrilled. I couldn’t wait to reread it. I envisioned the two of us having long, amazing literary conversations. Book-bonding time with one of my children — it had been too long.
Imagine my regret when I discovered that I didn’t like the book. I couldn’t get past the first chapter. This Regina, the one I was now, did not like the same books as the old Regina. Reflecting on this, I realized I should not have been surprised. I had fallen in love with it as a 12 year old; I was rereading it as, well, someone considerably older.
But it made me wonder: what about other books I have loved and left behind? If I read them today, would I still love them? Or did their impact on me have as much to do with the stories, the characters, the writing, as it did with who I was at that time — as the person reading those books for the first time?
I’ve written about The Prince of Tides and how reading that book returned me to the joy of reading, a desire I had lost during a difficult time. But now I think, if I picked up that book today, would I find myself unable to read it? Unable to care?
I suspect this has happened to all of us. It’s a bit like visiting an old friend who you discover you have absolutely nothing in common with. And you walk away and sadly tell yourself, “I guess that’s over.”