This young fella in his 20s is sort of doing what I did at his age: trying to grow up by shedding old interests and obsessions in reading. Things do change, and yes, you are “allowed” to grow out of books, but what you’re not “allowed” to do is castigate yourself for the things you once loved.
I read The Hobbit and the Narnia books at age 5 and subsequently spent my entire youth trying to recapture that magical feeling, reading and rereading SciFi and Fantasy novels. I moved from high fantasy like Anne McCaffrey to the hard, occasionally trashy, science-based stuff of Niven, Brin, Herbert, Asimov, etc., to the satirical (and often deeply problematic) books of Piers Anthony and Orson Scott Card, to the social dystopias of Gibson, Sterling, etc., to the socio-political stuff Le Guin, Atwood, Butler, Piercy, etc, and then gateway’d my way into mainstream literature. Once I was at university, I was somehow ashamed of my early reading (still a little ashamed of Dragonlance, but let’s save that one for another day), so I hid it and read like stink to catch up on classics and the mainstream lit of the time (omg, The English Patient? I didn’t have the “patients,” so to speak, but I slogged through). Anyway, once I hit my 40s, I realized something super important: I don’t give a flying fuck what anyone thinks. So that helped. But in the end, the only books I’ve “grown out of” are the ones that had always been poorly written in the first place (see Dragonlance reference above). Would my mind be as blown away today as it was when I first hit big reveal in Steel Beach by John Varley back when I was 20? No, but as a window on who I was at the time, and as a record of my development as a critical thinker, I think it’s important for me to revisit. If the book is good, I’ll find a new way of loving it. If it’s not, I’ll throw it in the pile for donation and let someone else’s kid start the process all over again.
Interest and comfort don’t give a shit what age you are. I’m sure there are a few adults out there who still wake up sucking their thumb. Who cares? Did they sleep well? How can I get me some of that? Because I’m having a hard time. That’s it, I’m trying tonight. Though I better wash this little market piggy good first.
As a twentysomething, I’ve learned that growing out of things is natural. For so long I resisted that part of growth, because I thought it meant that in order to become an adult I had to let go of everything that I loved as a child. But that’s not true: the things we love as children—books, movies, characters, even stuffed animals—tend to shape us as people in pivotal ways, so there’s definitely no need to discard them because someone told you that’s what growing up is. However, sometimes we can’t always avoid the fact that we’ve grown out of something: people, places, mindsets or, most depressingly, books.
Last year, I wrote about how I think I’ve outgrown young adult novels, because as much as there are YA books that I will always hold dear to my heart, I can’t escape the fact that I don’t hold the same mindset that I held when I read YA. Similarly, I’ve come to realize that outgrowing books isn’t limited to a specific genre aimed at a specific age group. Sometimes we grow out of books merely because we aren’t the same people we were when we read them.
Over the last few months, I’ve learned how enjoyable rereading books can be, especially if you loved them the first time. If I love a movie, I’m definitely going to watch it multiple times, so why can’t that also apply to books? As I’ve continued to make progress on the physical pile of unread books I keep in my bedroom (because, you know, quarantine), I thought it might also be a good time to reread some old favorites. I was wrong.