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.
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?