I have a particular memory from high school about time. I must have been in ninth grade at the time and was sitting in a school assembly (probably about sports). Suddenly I was struck by the knowledge that time was rushing by and there was no way to stop it. Every second passed without the universe particularly caring about me, and eventually I’d be old and die and that would be that. And every second that passed was one that I couldn’t get back. I could never be four again, or seven, or twelve. I felt a kind of homesickness for those ages, knowing I could never return.
You can tell why I’m obsessed with Our Town, right?
Sometimes I feel like this about books. At any given time, I have dozens of books on my to-read list. I have a lot to look forward to, and there are always more wonderful books coming out. But sometimes I feel kind of sad when I think about the books I’ve read and loved. There’s a particular joy that comes from reading a beloved book for the first time. You’re deeply invested in the characters’ world; you’re captivated by every plot turn; images are arresting. Rereading is wonderful and I return to favorite books every so often (I used to reread all the time), but it’s a very different experience than that first read. You live differently when you’re reading a book for the first time.
Like wishing I could go back to being seven, sometimes I wish I could read certain books again for the first time, or at least revisit that first reading experience. Like the first time I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (10th grade, November, with the Ever After soundtrack on loop) or The Giver (7th grade, winter, curled up on the bedroom floor). Most recently I’ve been wistful about Jellicoe Road, which I read during the 48 Hour Book Challenge and which I’m sure I’ll reread in the near future.
Maybe this means I need to slow down and savor my reading experiences more. Or maybe this means I need to increase my reading time so I come across more books that make me feel wistful at the end. Or maybe this is just the life of a reader–having to say goodbye to every book you finish.
Of course, this is also probably why I get excited when friends start books I love. That’s probably the closest thing I can think of to getting that first reading experience back. You say, “So what part are you at?” and they say “The scene with the tree!” And you say “OH MY GOSH I KNOW, ALL THE FEELINGS?!” For a moment you get to be swept back into that flood of emotions.
So if you tell me you haven’t read Harry Potter, don’t feel bad if I tell you that we have to stop whatever we’re doing so you can sit and read the whole series and talk about it with me. It just means that I remember that great first reading experience and want to share it with you.
(image: Julie Falk)