The Age of Transformation

Beloved Middle Grade

Lately I’ve been preparing for a pretty big life move, and for the past few weeks or so I’ve been packing up a storm. Some things are relatively easy to pack (clothes, shoes, etc.) but I’ve spent the most hours and the most agony over what to do with my books.

I’ve always had a bit of a book hoarding problem (don’t we all?) but I knew that I had to be utterly ruthless when it came to deciding what to take and what to donate. No more “Oh I’ll get to it later” or “Maybe I’ll read it again”. No more excuses. If I hadn’t read it in over a year, or if I hadn’t reread at least twice, it was going to get cut.

It was fairly easy to cull my adult novels; I find grown-ups boring for the most part, even though I am one myself. Gone were the literary tomes I felt I should read but didn’t enjoy, gone were the bestselling novels that I felt obligated to know about but didn’t care. Gone, gone, gone. I was feeling pretty good; I managed to get rid of about 50% of my adult bookcases. But what I lingered over, what I agonized over, were the books I read when I was a child, the age I first discovered the joy of reading.

Old School Children's Fiction

I think most readers have an age when they were transformed by reading. For me, it was the years between 8 and 14 years of age, the age when I first read Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain, Brian Jacques’ Redwall books, Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart series, and so many more. It was these books I could not bear to let go, even if the pages were crumbling, even if I hadn’t cracked open a Tamora Pierce in more than a year, even if I hadn’t reread Madeleine L’Engle’s Time quartet all the way through more than once. I just couldn’t bear to let go of these books. Even now the act of merely holding my battered mass market copy of Mariel of Redwall brings with it such a strong sense memory of what I was doing when I read it for the first time: sitting in my grandmother’s room in our house in Eagle Rock, California with its grey-green granite floor, feeling its cool stone beneath my bare feet, the only bearable place in our un-air-conditioned 1970s concrete house that sizzling summer of 1995.

Even adult books I read during this age of transformation managed to escape the donation pile. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, The Red Tent by Anita Diamant—if I had read these as an adult, I don’t think I would have been as moved by them as I was when I was 14. I think the books I read and loved during this formative age define and characterize the books I seek now.

What about you? Do you have an age where reading transformed you? Do you think this affects what you like to read or what you like to write now?

9 Responses to The Age of Transformation

  1. cait May 17 2013 at 7:12 am #

    When my family moves (which is, like, a lot) we have more boxes of books then anything else! 😛 I think I was on the later side of being transformed by books. For me, it was around 16, when I discovered the glorious abilities of the library. That was only a few years ago, so yep, it definitely affects me. I still read way too much dystopian. 😉

  2. Amelia Loken May 17 2013 at 8:13 am #

    ‘The Westing Game was a huge game changer for me as well as ‘The Mixed-Up Files…’ I read these as a 12-13 year old

    When I was fourteen, my family made a major cross-country move. Though I made friends at my new high school, books and music became my real world. I have some beloveds that I never give up, no matter how often I move.

    I actually went back and bought a bunch of out of print books: Lloyd Alexander’s ‘Vesper Holly’ series (I loved Prydians and Westmark’s too!), Madeleine Brent’s novels (Moonraker’s Bride & Tregaran’s Daughter) and Dianna Wynne Jones (Howl’s Moving Castle).

  3. Jessi May 17 2013 at 9:27 am #

    Funnily enough, as a kid (12-16), I read a lot of dark adult books – Michael Connelly, John Grisham, Anne Rice, Stephen King. I didn’t like kid’s books when I was growing up, but it before the YA craze started. That being said, loved Philip Pullman, Harry Potter, Narnia books growing up too. But in that funky age range, the younger books weren’t cutting it. But those 4 authors definitely set the trend for me. My mom definitely thought something was wrong with me that I was reading those sorts of books at that age. 🙂

  4. Laura Wardle May 17 2013 at 10:02 am #

    As a child I wasn’t much of a reader. I only read the books I had to for school. But discovering the Harry Potter books at the tender age of eleven completely transformed me. Overnight I became a bookworm. That was the start of my love affair with books and of course, the fantasy genre. For me, it was between the ages of eleven and seventeen (coinciding with the release of Deathly Hallows) that I was most affected. Those years set me up for a lifetime of fantasy — for both reading and writing, the latter of which I started when I was fifteen. In hindsight, some of the best years of my life. No wonder I write books for young adult. 😉

    Hope the big move goes well, JJ! 🙂

  5. Susan Elizabeth May 17 2013 at 10:35 am #

    I’ve started buying books and then leaving them at my parents’ house when I’m done with them. My mom will read the mysteries and everyone will read the contemporary fiction. Sometimes, I go on a Strand purge and sell a stack of books for enough money to buy one new book. And a library trip usually means going to pick up one book and coming back with four – at least those I can return!

    Good luck with your packing and life change, JJ!

    @Amelia – The Westing Game was big for me, too! I don’t remember anything about it just that it left a really big, almost haunting, impression. I definitely plan to re-read it sometime.

  6. Ailynn Knox-Collins May 17 2013 at 10:40 am #

    Great post. I’ve moved several times from the farthest end of the globe and the books on my shelves today are the ones from my childhood/early teen years. I have a weakness for picture books too and long to be able to pass them on to my grandchildren someday. And now I’ve almost given up reading adult literature so even the new books added to the shelf are YA/MG, and more picture books. I teach preschool, it’s allowed. 🙂 I’m happy to know I’m not alone in this.

  7. Alexa Y. May 17 2013 at 11:37 am #

    I completely share your sentiments! It is incredibly difficult for me to let go of the books that I read and loved as a child, and most times, I don’t even try. I do realize that I can’t always hoard all these books, and I’m really just lucky that they currently have a permanent space at my parents’ house. Eventually, I’ll have to go through them when I move into my own house and move them in with me — and I just don’t know what I’ll end up doing! It’s more than likely that I’m going to hold on to the childhood books that were completely precious to me.

  8. Jaimie engle May 17 2013 at 2:26 pm #

    Hands down it was alice in wonderland and the lion, the witch and the wardrobe for me, and my debut novel to be published this year, is a fantasy. I knew I wanted to be a writer at that time and I still have the 2 dozen crayoned short stories I write in second grade.

  9. Kim May 17 2013 at 9:46 pm #

    It is so hard to part with books, I agree. I almost have an entire bookshelf (a small-ish one!) that’s filled with TBR books — which I’m a bit ashemd of, but I still can’t let them go. The thought of moving and figuring out what to do with all my books is just a nightmare. I was in my mid-to-late teens when I really fell in love with reading, and I do think that affects what I read and why I love YA so much. Adult books are fine, but like you said, they can get boring. YA is so versatile and the characters are still growing up and figuring out what they want and who they are — that’s just so much fun. I hope your move goes okay 🙂

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