Sherry: Lori thanks so much for joining us today. I meet Lori at Left Coast Crime last March. We were co-panelist on Deadly New Voices. Her book The Black Hour debuted last week to great reviews.
Lori: Let me get this part out of the way: I hated Anne of Green Gables.
Oh, and A Wrinkle in Time.
Are you still here? What if I say that I only got up to the front door of Mr. Rochester’s house in Jane Eyre before I fell asleep, dropped the book, and never picked it up again.
Don’t get me wrong. I love kid books. I side with #teamYA in the recent kerfuffle over whether adults should be ashamed to read books written for young people. (Ashamed? Really?)
The problem with these books is that I didn’t try to read any of them until far into my adulthood—and it was too late. I’ve found that if I didn’t come to love a book at the proper time of my life, it might not be possible to go back and right the wrong.
There’s no time limit on these books. They’re classics. But they are classics meant for girls of a certain age, a certain age I haven’t been in a long (long) time.
By the time I read Anne of Green Gables, Anne struck me as a hyperactive goody-goody. I didn’t even understand A Wrinkle in Time. It was about…time? It just ended abruptly, I noticed. Leaving room for the sequels, thought my jaded, adult self. As for Jane Eyre: Oh, Jane. He has a crazy wife in the attic. Girlfriend, you can do better.
On the other hand, books that I read and loved as a kid still hold sway over me. I’ve re-read some of them as an adult and you know what? They’re just as awesome as they always were. These are books like A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh stories, on which my childhood was built and in which as an adult I found some sage writing advice. Or E.L. Konigsberg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Sure, the kids running away from home gave me more pause than it once did, but I still rooted for them to get away with it. Scott O’Dell’s The Island of the Blue Dolphin—check, except now I kind of want a summer house on that cove instead of being rescued from it. Alice in Wonderland? This book was probably never for children anyway, but that’s beside the point—I read it as a kid, loved it, and have read it as an adult. It holds up.
Except it’s not the book holding up to some standard. It’s the reader. It’s us. It’s me. I’m the one who comes to the pages different than I was last time. I’m the variable that changes over time. The words on the page say what they’ve said my entire life and either they resonate with me or they don’t. The difference is me—did I read this book long ago and leave a piece of myself in the text? For the books I never read when I was supposed to, the question is different. Can I find something in the text to latch onto now?
Now that I’m a writer with deadlines, I get less reading done. Combine that with the vast number of great mysteries I encounter at every conference I attend, where I’m meeting great new authors I want to support, and we have a problem of supply and demand. Supply, supply, and demand. I’ll never read everything I want to. (Thanks a lot, mortality.) I have to be more selective with my reading time.
More than that—I hope I have left something of myself on the pages I’ve written for someone else to find at the exact right time. And, someday, they can tear my Winnie-the-Pooh out of my cold, dead hands. I’m not ashamed to say it.
Readers: Did you read any books that just weren’t “in the moment”?
Lori Rader-Day is the author of the mystery The Black Hour (Seventh Street Books, 2014). Born and raised in central Indiana, she now lives in Chicago with her husband and dog. Her fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Good Housekeeping, Time Out Chicago, and others. Visit her at LoriRaderDay.com.
Hi, Lori! We met at Left Coast Crime, too. How fun to have you here today, and congratulations on your release. This is a wonderful essay, and I agree. Somehow I didn’t have much of a literary education – never read Austen, Dickens, Hawthorne, and other greats (what was I doing in high school English? No idea – all I remember is War and Peace, Old Man and the Sea, and some Shakespeare). And when I try to read those authors now? It’s hopeless. I’ll watch the BBC Bleak House and love it, but the writing is too dense for me. I wish you all the best with your book – adding it to my own towering TBR pile now.
I remember you, Edith! Thanks for having me today. I agree—those Dickensian sentences are little much when you’re trying to fit a book in 30 minutes at a time right before bed. zzzz
Congrats on your release!
Like Edith, I never read a lot of the classics, although I do remember reading a lot of Mark Twain in high school (I loved his stuff). I tried reading Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice recently, and couldn’t make it through more than a few pages.
Of course, Nancy Drew made a big impact, but the one children’s book that stands out for me is Snow Treasure. I got it out of the school library when I was in 4th grade. It was about kids in Norway during WWII foiling the Nazis. (Between my mom’s Big Band records and this book, I have a love of all things 1940s.) Several years ago, I went to my grade school reunion at St. Philip School and they still had the exact same book in the library. It even still had the same card in the front pocket with the dates stamped to tell you when to return the book. I guess not that many kids borrowed it since 1967. A shame!
Thank you, Joyce! I came to Mark Twain a little late, but then I got to take a class on only his work in my MFA—with a MT scholar! It was so fantastic. Snow Treasure sounds great, and how wonderful that the book was still there for you to to discover.
I read Tom Sawyer when we were visiting friends in Hannibal, Missouri. So as I read I got to go to the places he described in the book. I took a Mark Twain class in college too.
I have a copy of Snow Treasures on a shelf or in my garage somewhere. I read it as a kid and loved it!
I read a lot of the classics in high school and college. When I was in my twenties, someone gave me a list of 100 Best Books Ever Written. I started working my way through them. I fell in love with Jane Austen but Ivanhoe stopped me. I wanted to love it but I just kept falling asleep.
I love Jane Austen. I found her when I was in my late 20s/early 30s, so I guess there’s hope for me yet. Ivanhoe would probably stop anyone. Thanks for having me on the site today!
I had trouble with Ivanhoe too! I read it as a child and was so disappointed. The book I had was a beautiful edition and I was certain it would be a rollicking adventure. It ended up being a book and its cover situation. As an adult I saw the A&E mini-series version of Ivanhoe and loved it. I thought the book deserved a second chance based on that experience. Sadly,even the second reading, it was not as good as the movie, at least for me.
I agree completely. You love some books because they come to you at just the right time. That is actually a big theme in The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, which I loved. I love Anne of Green Gables and A Wrinkle in Time, but I read them when I was 12. Coming at them as an adult changes your perspective. Reading Harriet the Spy as a parent instead of a child probably ruined it for me.
That book is tops on my reading list right now. Harriet has her problems, I agree. I still love her.
Lori, I keep hoping my 11 year old nieces will love the books I loved when I loved them, but the time is narrowing for Nancy Drew. The books that still stand up are magic, aren’t they? PS, going to reread ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHIN. Thanks for the post!
Oh, I hope it’s the right time for you and the Island of the Blue Dolphin! Thanks!
I’m on #TeamYA whole heartedly, Or maybe that should be #TeamMG since I really read more Middle Grade than Young Adult. There is still something fun and magical in those books when they are done right. And I have many of my beloved books from childhood as well that are still great when I reread them. I keep hoping to get to more of them to reread, but it just doesn’t seem to be happening. As you said, so many books. But someday, right?
It has to happen for us, Mark. HAS TO.
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