This article at Tor is really just an excuse for me to ramble for a bit about how I’ve been rereading a bunch of genre books I read as a teen and how those books have changed in when passing through my older, presumably greyer, grey matter. Solaris (fantastic and bizarre and how did I even find this book as a kid?), Dune (I just don’t have the zeal to go through it all again), Neuromancer (checks out), Dragonlance (so terribly written that I’m ashamed of my younger self for bearing with them), the various David Eddings books (lists of things that happened with some good moments), The Dragonbone Chair series by Tad Williams (a genuinely great fantasy story), Lord of the Rings (soooo muuuuch weather), the Fionavar Tapestry by Kay (masterpiece), etc. Do they all hold up? No. But do they all tell me something about who I became? Sure. And some books, like Solaris and the Fionavar Tapestry, really offer MORE to me now than they did back then. So it’s not a bad exercise to head back and comb through your personal set of golden oldies.
I recently found myself combing through some boxes of old books and papers and came across a fascinating personal artifact. On the surface it’s a pretty unremarkable object, just a crumbling spiral-bound notebook covered in childish graffiti. But inside is over a decade of my life—a handwritten list of every book I read between 4th grade and college graduation. Looking through it was a bit like spelunking into the past, a unique look at the strata of different life stages, delineated by changes in handwriting and shifting interests like so many compressed layers of rock.
Paging through the tattered old list, I was seized by a sort of anthropological interest. If different parts of the list reflect phases of my life, what would happen if I took a deep dive into one of these distinct stages and revisited some of those stories? One place in particular caught my interest: from about the age of 12-15 there is a sort of genre bottleneck where my tastes suddenly narrowed from an indiscriminate mix of anything and everything to a very distinctive preference for fantasy and (to a lesser extent at the time) science fiction. There were dozens of titles to choose from, so I picked a handful of stories that conjured up particularly strong feelings, like sense memories that come back clearly even when my actual recollection of the stories is hazy (or nonexistent).