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Grownup Reading, Childlike Feeling.

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

I was having coffee with a friend, a retired school librarian, and as usual, book recommendations were flying across the table in tennis-match fashion. Many of the titles we touched on only briefly, confirming that the other had read one, or that it was on her TBR list. I was surprised to learn, in our meandering journey through our minds’ libraries, that my friend was unfamiliar with Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. I told her that I found it to be easily the most compelling story I have read in my adult life, putting up a good fight for my #1 favorite slot and threatening the book that has had that honor since I was 12. She then made an observation that seems so absurdly obvious that I couldn’t believe I’d never really thought about it: she said that it takes a lot for a book to change our lives as adult readers, far more than it does when we are in grade school or even high school. As we talked about this a bit, I knew it to be absolutely true: our relationships with the people in our world, the challenges we face, the successes and failures we celebrate and mourn, every life experience we have as we grow through young adulthood makes it a little harder for an author to create a new feeling, a new awareness, a new idea or world view. Perhaps that’s why I became drawn to fantasy and speculative fiction more as an adult: the possibility that an author could present me with something outside of my existing understanding of my personal universe is greater in those genres.

It also got me thinking about more of the books I remember from my early childhood and middle youth. How the main characters were always ones with whom I shared some integral likeness – above-average intelligence, heightened empathy, and low self-esteem make the most frequent appearances – but who also had something I didn’t. Sometimes it was the means to pursue an Ivy League education seriously; I’d read about people who owned houses with, you know, guest rooms and matching dining room sets and things. Sometimes they were stunningly beautiful, which made it possible for them to be popular AND an egghead. Sometimes they could move shit with their brain-power focused through their eyeballs. Things I couldn’t even dream of, because they were so far removed from my reality.

Now, I’ve learned enough about life and experienced enough of it for myself that an author can’t woo me so easily. I find myself critiquing rather than simply appreciating. I don’t see the world many authors write about as an unfamiliar one anymore. One that seems as far removed as the distant planets of science fiction, or the alternate realities hiding in fantasy. The world of adult emotions, responsibilities, opportunities, and dreams-turned-reality. Now, I have so much of all of that that I miss that childlike ability to view it from the outside and *want* it.

And I still really wish I could move shit with my eyes.

What’s the biggest difference you’ve noticed in yourself as an adult reader versus a young reader?