“When You’re Older” Books
I’m beginning to get the sense that books are a lot like Brussels sprouts: there are some you’re only going to like “when you’re older.”
Lots of ink has been spilled discussing young adult literature and books that you’re supposed to age out of, but I find that very little has been said on the subject of books you age into. Books that you tried before and just couldn’t get into, only to find they resonate with you years later as new-found favorites.
When I moved to Nantucket, I hung the first page of Barry Moser’s beautiful Moby-Dick on my cubicle wall, right by my computer monitor. I did this even though I’ve had a long-standing Melville life ban ever since an unfortunate high school encounter with “Billy Budd.” I hung the page there because I love Barry Moser’s work and it was beautiful — something thematically appropriate (I was in the land of 19th-century whaling now, after all) that I’d still want to look at day in and day out.
Imagine my surprise some months later when I looked up from my computer at that page, for the millionth time, and realized it had become less an decorative object and more a piece of literature that spoke to me. I’d been reading and rereading that page for months and had almost internalized it. I actually loved it. I actually appreciated Melville. Was it possible I had, at twenty eight, finally reached the Melville appreciation point? Was I finally old enough to like him?
It was that little page on my cubicle wall that made me think seriously about books one is supposed to like “when you’re older.” The fact of books’ unchanging nature, while the reader is in perpetual motion, is a favorite of mine. It’s why I am such a big proponent of rereading, even if the rereadings are only separated by a short period of time rather than years. You can never replicate each momentary version of yourself and thus you can never read the same book twice. It’s a wonderful thing of reading: every book is potentially new again with each reading.
And some books are just out there, waiting for you and ready to be new for you — but only “when you’re older.” I find it rather marvelous that there are whole libraries worth of books you can only appreciate later. There’s something liberating about there being some books you simply must wait to read. You can’t rush them and there’s no point getting to them too early — you’ll just have to have patience and wait for a certain plateau of maturity.
A couple of weeks ago I was working in our museum’s shop and a customer picked up Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea, raving to her companion that she simply must read it. I had been eyeing it myself so, at the till, I asked her if the book was really as amazing as all that. She eyed me somewhat skeptically, as if weighing something about me on her mental scale, and finally shook her head, saying, “You’re too young for it.”
I was a bit stung — how dare she disqualify me from reading something based solely on my age! — but, upon reflection, she has a point. There are some books you just have to wait for. As far as I can make out, it’s one of the unsung benefits of aging.
So tell me, readers of varied ages, what great reads have you aged into? And which ones are still looking forward to?