April 27th, 2008

summer reading

You Can't Be a Child Again

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I have to say how disconcerting it was when I realized this morning that my dreams last night were scenarios out of famous children's stories. I'm not real certain of the inspiration, but I think odds are good that they were inspired by this discussion about world building over at Smart Bitches along with me realizing once again that I don't get drawn into alternate worlds in the same way I did when I was a child. I remember a discussion on that very topic was hosted by Michael Dirda some years ago. It seems it's a common part of the growth of a reader to go through the stages of real immersion into a book's world as a child to a place where one reads little fiction at all. I'm not yet at the stage of giving up fiction, by any means, but I certainly interact with it in a different way than I did as a child.

As a kid, I loved Laura Ingalls Wilder, LM Montgomery (still do), Madeleine L'Engle, CS Lewis, Carolyn Keene, then later AC Doyle, Agatha Christie, Jane Austen, F Scott Fitzgerald, and all of the other usual suspects. My love was due in part to that feeling that I could step into an alternate reality just by opening a book. It was a visceral thing I could feel down to my gut. I was there. I was truly "world's away". In my adult years, I think the only book that has drawn me in in that way is Outlander. But unlike before (like with re-reading Anne of Green Gables as a kid), when I re-read Outlander now, the pull is not the same. I see it with a more critical eye; while I might be in that world when I'm reading, I'm not 100% there. It's more like I'm 50% there, at best.

It turns out that 50% difference is a very large difference for me. That Maximum of 50% Rule applies to everything fictional nowadays. Actually, it's far more accurate to say the 50% Rule applies for what I find to be the best of the fiction I read nowadays. Anything less than what I find to be the best falls pretty sharply under that 50% mark.

There's a part of me that mourns this change. However, the greater part of me accepts that this change is just a part of growth. It's a waste of time to do anything less than accept that this is just how it is for me now. One thing that really helps with losing a sense of wonder is the increase in understanding I've found. As a child, there was definitely less of an understanding of all of the ways that fictional worlds work through and examine truths of the real world. That increased interaction with fiction in a cerebral way is likely the thing that doesn't allow the sense of immersion to come over me. But I think like nearly every other situation where one goes from innocence to experience, it's impossible to go back to innocence once experience is gained, and it's close to impossible to truly wish you were still (or again) that innocent. One can look back, but one can't go back.

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