Mon 19 Apr, 2004 08:21 pm
The first book which ever i read was The Wind in the Willows. It has not changed, despite any changes in me, and is still a good read. Many other books which i read in the dawn of childhood, in the morning of youth, and at the noon of "adulthood" (term used advisédly)--have not seemed the same, though. The most striking example which comes to mind is Heinlein. When i was about ten, i found a book which apparently one of my brothers had hidden. The title was embossed at the top of each page, Children of the Stars, but the cover and the first several pages were missing, so i did not yet know the author. Later, i learned his name, and read Starship Troopers, Farnham's Freehold, and the immensely popular, "youth cult novel," Stranger in a Strange Land--among many others of his workds. I enjoyed them immensely, and was quite taken with the author. It was in "late youth," also, that i read Catch 22, which i found bleakly hilarious. I introduced myself to so many books of Kurt Vonnegut at this time, as well.
And of course, Time marches tritely on. When in my middle 30's, i re-read many of these books. And what a revelation! Heinlein appalled me. Starship Troopers reeks of reactionary elitism, Farnham's Freehold is awash with unconcealed racism and sexist domination fantasy--woman as evil to be subdued, domesticated--human kine. I grew sufficiently disgusted with Heinlein's expressed and implied "philosophy" as not to want to read him again. I had first gotten an inkling of this in reading the novel (blessedly, i have forgotten the title) about a decrepit old man who "survives death" by having his brain transplanted to the body of a nubile young female associate, killed by a would-be rapist in the ugly, violent world which Heinlein portrayed of haves and have-nots in "a war of all against all." The later re-reading of those novels i had first read in adolescent simply saddened me. I had discovered that i didn't very much respect, and didn't at all like a friend of my youth. I began to tire of Vonnegut, and Breakfast of Champions awoke me to a regret at my shallowness in having so enthused about him when younger. Re-reading Heller's novel left me feeling not the least sense of anything humorous or mordant, just of a gruesome life lived in absurdity--although one may well contend that was his intention, my point is that the enjoyment was gone.
Other books have withstood the assaults of maturity, cynicism, "world-weariness"--Austen, Zola . . . Clemens simply revealed more and more of a complex character and thereto undiscovered ironic thoughtfulness.
At each stage of crossing this Meander flood of words, i learned somewhat more and many things differently perceived than when younger. To that extent, these were books which did not change my life, but contributed by default to a better understanding of myself, and quite new perspectives on the world of which i make my small, remote part. I discovered new authors, and rather wistfully wonder how well these will stand up to the scrutiny of later years. Have you ever had a similar experience?