Is there a right time to read a book?
No, it’s not a rhetorical question because it’s always the right time to read a book.
What I am asking is do some books resonate with you at a certain age? Can you miss that opportunity and not have the book make the same impact as those who read it at the “appropriate age”?
For example, some years ago, a student of mine was reading J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye for her English Extension 2 Major Work, comparing the protagonist Holden Caulfield with the modern equivalent of the bad boy, Bart Simpson.
I read the novel to understand her thesis and I knew it was a celebrated text but it left me cold and unengaged. Since then I’ve tried to work out why. Perhaps I simply missed the phase during my adolescence when it would have taken on greater resonance.
In a similar way, I recently read Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five and Cat’s Cradle and I learned much about writing from them, but they didn’t have the “wow factor” for me. Would I have gained more if I was younger? Had a different mindset?
In comparison, reading Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in high school blew my mind, while Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn left me cold. Don’t even get me started on Dickens’ Great Expectations.
I’m in the middle of Paul Coelho’s The Alchemist and again, it is touted as “one of the best books of all time” according to the sticker on the front cover. I am liking it as a fable but I am not “getting it.”
I’m not referring to the style or language of a text, but its engagement with a culture or generation. Context may play a significant part in a understanding a text’s reception and its reimagining in later eras through its thematic concerns keeps it relevant. Think Shakespeare and the various recreations of his texts.
But there are books, and plays, that I love. Sometimes a book speaks to right where you are, at a specific time in your life, addressing a particular issue or providing a revelation.
I love Shakespeare, ancient Greek tragedies, Homer’s epic poems, Milton’s Paradise Lost, anything by Tim Winton and Markus Zusak, Enid Blyton and Judy Blume when I was growing up, Tolkien in my teenage years (and more so now I’m older). Even the classics: Frankenstein, Jane Eyre, but not Wuthering Heights.
What books have you read that hit the right spot at the right time for you?
What books have you read that you felt were not the right time for you?