I can’t let that last paragraph go. I’ve been thinking about it constantly ever since I first read it a couple of weeks ago. Here it is again:
I have always been a reader; I have read at every stage of my life, and there has never been a time when reading was not my greatest joy. And yet I cannot pretend that the reading I have done in my adult years matches in its impact on my soul the reading I did as a child. I still believe in stories. I still forget myself when I am in the middle of a good book. Yet it is not the same. Books are, for me, it must be said, the most important thing; what I cannot forget is that there was a time when they were at once more banal and more essential than that. When I was a child, books were everything. And so there is in me, always, a nostalgic yearning for the lost pleasure of books. It is not a yearning that one ever expects to be fulfilled. And during this time, these days when I read all day and half the night, when I slept under a counterpane strewn with books, when my sleep was black and dreamless and passed in a flash and I woke to read again — the lost joys of reading returned to me. Miss Winter restored to me the virginal qualities of the novice reader, and then with her stories she ravished me.
Everyone in my book group agreed: she’s absolutely right. The experience of reading was different when we were kids. It’s exactly as she says: it was at once more banal and more essential. Books had an impact on our souls in a way that they rarely, if ever, do any more.
The question is, why? What changed? Is it just that we’re too busy now? Exhausted, we fall into bed at 11 o’clock with our minds spinning with the events of the day, what our kids did, what happened at work, what’s coming up tomorrow — and we’re lucky if we can stay awake long enough to read two pages. No wonder books don’t ravish us the way they used to.
Certainly, that’s part of it. Once you become a mother you can never completely forget yourself. There’s a small part of you that has to stay on guard, always. But I don’t think that’s all of it. I would be very surprised if childless bookworms (Aunt Sara?) don’t feel the exact same loss. And let’s not forget Margaret Lea, the character in the book that I quoted above. She is not only childless and unmarried, but she makes a point of going to bed every night at 8:00. She makes herself a cup of cocoa, casts her cares aside, and reads for three hours before turning off the light. Exhaustion and banal worries don’t seem to be a problem for her.
I think it must have something to do with simply being a child. Maybe when we lose our childhood innocence — when the world is no longer new and wonderful — maybe that’s when we lose “the virginal qualities of the novice reader.”
I miss it.
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Two questions for you:
1. Why do you think your experience of reading has changed (if it has)?
2. Have you read anything recently that ravished you the way Miss Winter’s book ravished Margaret?