Jo Walton posted this discussion yesterday, entitled “Is There a Right Age to Read a Book?” She poses some interesting questions as well as addressing the difference between readers and re-readers. I happen to fall into the latter category and completely agree with relaxing in to the narrative the second go round. It’s upon re-reading that I feel like I can appreciate the author’s expertise. The first time, I’m caught up in the story. The second time, I notice the skilled use of literary devices and other significant details. I think other re-readers would probably say the same. While reading Walton’s comments, though, I couldn’t help but think to myself how grateful I am that we don’t just have one shot with literature. There are so many amazing books out there and they touch people in different ways. That’s what makes books so interesting to discuss. If we all felt the exact same way about a story, well then, what’s left to say? It’s the debating, the questions, the ability to push deeper into a story and seeing how it can expand without breaking that, to me, distinguishes Literature from literature.
Fortunately for us there is tremendous amount of good Literature. Even if you read something too early, or too late, you’re sure to read something else at exactly the right time. Having to read Great Expectations in 9th grade kind of put me off Dickens. But I first read George Eliot in college, when I was better able to digest the richness of her work. Maybe I’ll never appreciate Dickens the way I would have, if I had read his books at the ‘right’ time, but there are plenty of other books for me to enjoy, so I’m not too worried. It works the other way as well. I’m so thrilled that I read and re-read Lewis’s Narnia books as a child, because as an adult, they make me uncomfortable. That means I can still genuinely recommend them to young readers, even though I’ll never truly enjoy them myself again.
Age appropriateness and children’s books are an ongoing discussion. But Walton’s comments are a reminder of how individualize the reading process really is. And reading builds on itself. If we all waited till adulthood to read certain books, then we wouldn’t have the background and preparation to enjoy those books. Read wrong and read right, just keep reading.