I was a different reader then

It often seems to crop up in my book clubs when we are talking about favourite books we read years ago, that on returning to them, there seems more disappointments than delighted reunions.

I first read Catch-22 when I was about fifteen or sixteen, and I was thrilled by it; I laughed,  I was puzzled, horrified, I wept, I learned a lot… through the years I reread it at intervals until about twenty or so years ago. I didn’t not look at it again for any particular reason, it just dropped off the list of books I read. Last year I returned to it… and I just couldn’t engage with it. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it, or that it was too familiar, there was just something about reading on this occasion that failed to impress me or move me. I have to confess I didn’t finish reading it , so maybe I should try again. I was talking to a friend about this and she had a similar experience with reading Daniel Martin by John Fowles; she couldn’t imagine why her younger self had thought it a favourite book.

I mentioned in another post,  that we read Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov in our reading group; I had read it a couple of times, and as with Catch-22 I first read it when I was quite young, maybe seventeen or eighteen. Reading it again – and maybe because I write, I was struck with wonder at the quality of Nabokov’s writing; he is a master, he was tri-lingual and wrote the novel in English which was not his first language. When I had read it as a young woman I didn’t even notice the language, I was just carried along by the narrative.  Reading it when I was seventeen, I was not much older than Lolita, the eponymous character, and I had a very different attitude to the main plot-line, that of a much older man seducing a young girl. Now, as a mother, I was repelled by it, and so were two other people in the group who were also mothers. What was interesting, was that  the fourth member of our group, an intelligent young woman of nineteen, had similar thoughts to  mine  when I was seventeen (although being a very intelligent person, she really did appreciate the wonderful language of the book!)

I am a different reader now, I come to books in a different way and with different experiences… but my favourite book which I still read and delight in is Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré and so far that has never disappointed me on a reread!

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