This blog is basically about how good books are nice and bad books are the pits. And then I get grumpy.

Friday, January 2, 2009

A little recycling

On my old blog, Bookspring, I used to post under a heading called Musings every once in a while. I've decided to bring one particular bit of Musings back as I've noticed that people are now talking about what I mentioned there three years ago. Laura Miller touches on childhood versus adulthood reading in her book, The Magician's Book and an article byMichelle Slatalla in The New York Times is entirely devoted to the issue. So, since it seems to be one of the literary topics of the day and since I seem to have been the one of the early birds on this band wagon, I'll re-post here my musings from October 4, 2005.


I wonder. Why is reading such a different experience as an adult than it is as a child? Children put their imaginations to use so skillfully when reading. As an adult, I'm not sure I have ever been so engrossed in a novel as I was when I was a child reading Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I'm quite sure I have never read a book in a single afternoon at the library as I did with one of Beverly Cleary's wonderful children's chapter books.

I still love to read, but it is a different experience. A book can interest me, even absorb me, but still not fully envelop me.

Recently, I had been longing to read a great book, the kind of book that makes you feel like you've been sucked into an alternate universe. So, of course, I was on the look-out for one. One day when I was downtown I managed to find a popular book on the shelf of the library. I began reading the book across the street on the terrace of a restaurant, shaded from the sun by a large umbrella over my table. The book, Girl With the Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier, is a story about a Dutch maid in the painter Vermeer's household during the 17th century. It was intriguing. Despite its stains and tattered condition it was good company. Whenever I left the book I found myself wanting to return to it. But it still wasn't the consuming experience of my childhood. That seems no longer possible.

And, yet, I wonder. Is it the same for all adults? If a person is never encouraged to read as a child, has he missed the only opportunity in life for such an experience? What is reading like for a person who only became a bookworm as an adult? I read raves about books on a literarature-related website I frequent and I wonder how those readers seem to still have the experiences that ended for me as youth did.

Maybe it's just the cynicism of adulthood, the lack of being able to suspend disbelief. Maybe it's chemical - perhaps there is a biological reason children get so absorbed in books and not adults. We live too much on the surface, as has been said. I don't know.

Reading continues to give me pleasure. It provides me with entertainment and information. I recommend it. But, still, I wonder.

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