How To Read Childhood Favorites the “Right” Way

IMG_9546I love rereading books that I used to love. Nostalgia books, I suppose you could call them.

It used to never be a problem for me, but as I’ve gotten more serious about writing, and as I’m critiquing other writer’s works on a weekly basis, it’s gotten more difficult not to read things with a critical eye.

Two years ago, I made the mistake of gifting my all time favorite book to my critique partner. As I reread it after I gifted it, I started seeing areas I knew he would criticize. And he did criticize those areas, and many more I hadn’t anticipated.

Suddenly, I didn’t love the book as much as I used to. It wasn’t the perfect example of a novel that I’d thought it was. I was disappointed, and for a long time, didn’t want to read any of my old favorites, worried that I wouldn’t love them as much as I used to.

Recently, I got the urge to reread The Forbidden Game trilogy, by LJ Smith. Without overthinking it, I started the first one.

I ended up reading it in two minds. My critical reader found all the flaws. (And there are flaws.) But my nostalgic reader found all the reasons I’d always loved it. And my nostalgic reader was louder.

It’s easy to find the flaws in something, to pick it apart, to criticize. That’s why anyone can do it.

And as a writer, it’s important that I can be constructively critical to my work and to the work of other writers who want to improve. Sometimes, as a reader, it’s important to do too. It’s good practice, and helps judge what works and what doesn’t.

But there are sometimes when I don’t want to pick things apart or find ways to improve something. Sometimes I just want to enjoy it, recapture that uncomplicated pleasure that came with reading it in the past.

The meaning of a particular book and how it resonates with the reader can change over time. There have been books I’ve connected with more or less over time, depending on where I was in my life.

But I don’t ever want to get to the point where I look at a beloved book, and only see the flaws. That serves no purpose. And I certainly don’t want to avoid rereading a favorite book out of fear.

All books have magic, and magic is a personal thing. But the key is that we, as readers, have to be complicit in creating that magic. It doesn’t exist without a reader who’s willing to be immersed in the book.

A book that resonates with me, at any point in my life, doesn’t have to be perfect. That’s an unrealistic standard. If it made me feel something deeply at any point, then it was “perfect” for me at that moment.

So, from now on, when I’m rereading a book, I’m going to keep in mind that it’s okay for it to have flaws, and those flaws don’t diminish its value one bit.

After all, at one point, I didn’t even see the flaws. They were always there, but I was so immersed in magic that I missed them. And I’m not going to let anyone take that away from me… not even myself.

What I Read in 2015

I started reading 102 books this year, and completed 98 of them.  I abandoned one book this year and didn’t complete three others (though I’m working on them).  I completed reading 69 new books this year, and three of them were from the list of classics I’m working through.  I liked most of the books I read this year.

In past years, what I’ve read has skewed more heavily toward romance.  Because I’m working on being a more critical reader (and hopefully a better writer), I started taking a closer look at what I enjoy about the books I read.

I realized that in general, I enjoy romance novels, but I don’t love them.  Reading romance novels is like eating potato chips.  I can go through them quickly, and they kind of taste good, but after while, it becomes mindless consumption.

My favorite books are the ones that make me think, surprise me, and take me on a journey I haven’t been on before.  I enjoy highlighting passages of beautiful language, thoughtful observations, and philosophical musings.  I like books that are hard to put down because I don’t know exactly where they’re going, and I’m enjoying the ride too much to get off, even if it makes me a little dizzy.

That being said, I don’t want to wade through thoughtful observations so deep that the plot gets lost.  I think it’s more difficult to weave that kind of thing into an intriguing plot than it would be to just write a book full of purple prose.

Knowing what I know about what I like to read, I’m going to treat romance novels like sweet tooth cravings.  There’s nothing wrong with satisfying it once in awhile, curling up on a rainy Saturday and racing through an easy book, but my challenge to myself this year is to choose more books that I’m really going to like, to make my reading life more interesting and enjoyable.  I want to read the types of books I’d like to write.  Maybe that will help me figure out what works and what doesn’t.  If nothing else, I’m sure I’ll learn a few things through observation.

*This is a book I’ve read before.
+This is a book I didn’t finish.
x Recommended by my book club.
# From classics list
= audiobook

1. X The Night Circus, by Erin Morganstern (12/30/14- 1/2/15)
2. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, David Foster Wallace (1/3/15-not completed)
3. The Curvy, Not So Skinny Girls Dating Agency, Ava Catori (1/5/15- 1/6)
4. If I Stay, Gayle Forman (1/14/15)
5. Where She Went, Gayle Forman (1/15/15)
6. X Me Before You, JoJo Moyes (1/16/15)
7. *Me Before You, JoJo Moyes (1/24/15- 1/26)
8. Paper Towns, John Green (1/27/15- 1/28)
9. # A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving (1/29- 2/8)
10. Dark Witch, Nora Roberts (2/12- 2/13)
11. Graveminder, Melissa Marr (2/13- 2/16)
12. Shadow Spell, Nora Roberts (2/17- 2/19)
13. *Treachery in Death (#32), JD Robb (2/20- 2/22)
14. Concealed in Death (#38), JD Robb (2/22-2/24)
15. Stories from the Open Range, Anne Proulx (2/25-not completed)
16. Blood Magick, Nora Roberts (2/26- 2/27)
17. x+The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt (3/1-abandoned)
18. Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser (3/11-not completed)
19. The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels, A Love Story, Ree Drummond (3/11)
20. Every You, Every Me, David Levithan (3/17)
21. Boy, Snow, Bird, Helen Oyeyemi (3/18-3/23)
22. Every Day, David Levithan (3/24)
23. Let It Snow, John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle (3/25)
24. There Will Be Lies, Nick Lake (3/28- 3/30)
25. *The Baby-Sitters Club, Book 1, Kristy’s Big Idea, Ann M. Martin (4/2)
26. You Are Destined To Be Together Forever, Dean Koontz (4/3)
27. *The Baby-Sitters Club, Book 2, Claudia and The Phantom Phone Calls, Ann M. Martin (4/5)
28. *The Baby-Sitters Club, Book 3, The Truth About Stacey, Ann M. Martin (4/5)
29. *The Baby-Sitters Club, Book 4, Maryanne Saves the Day, Ann M. Martin (4/5)
30. Boy Meets Boy, David Levithan (4/6)
31. Unite Me (Destroy Me & Fracture Me), Tahereh Mafi (4/10- 4/24)
32. Traveling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen, Jane Hawking (4/10- 4/14)
33. *The Fault in Our Stars, John Green (4/15)
34. The Silver Linings Playbook, Matthew Quick (4/18)
35. *Firestarter, Stephen King, (4/24- 4/26)
36. When Beauty Tamed the Beast, Eloisa James (4/28-4/29)
37. The Neighbor, Dean Koontz, (5/3)
38. The City, Dean Koontz, (5/3- 5/8)
39. Obsession in Death (#40), JD Robb (5/9- 5/10)
40. *The Language of Flowers, Vanessa Diffenbaugh, (5/12- 5/14)
41. x Tender is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald (5/15- 5/31)
42. Those Who Live Long Forgotten (6/1- 6/20)
43. Festive in Death, JD Robb (#39) (6/3-6/4)
44. *Naked in Death, JD Robb (#1) (6/4)
45. *Glory in Death, JD Robb (#2) (6/5)
46. *Immortal in Death, JD Robb (#3) (6/6-6/7)
47. *Rapture in Death, JD Robb (#4) (6/8- 6/9)
48. *Ceremony in Death (#5) (6/9- 6/10)
49. The New World, Eli Horowitz & Chris Adrian (6/11- 6/12)
50. #Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck (6/1- 6/13)
51. *Vengence in Death (#6), JD Robb (6/12- 6/13)
52. *Holiday in Death (#7), JD Robb (6/13- 6/14)
53. *Conspiracy in Death (#8), JD Robb (6/14- 6/15)
54. x Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins (6/16- 6/19)
54. *Witness in Death (#10), JD Robb (6/19-6/20)
55. *Judgement in Death (#11), JD Robb (6/20-6/21)
56. *Betrayal in Death (#12), JD Robb (6/21- 6/23)
57. *Seduction in Death (#13), JD Robb (6/23- 6/24
58. *Reunion in Death, (#14), JD Robb (6/24- 6/25)
59. *Purity in Death (#15), JD Robb (6/25- 6/26)
60. *Portrait in Death (#16), JD Robb (6/26- 6/27)
61. +The Truth About Mr. Darcy, Susan Adriani (6/30-
62. *Loyalty in Death (#9), JD Robb (7/6- 7/7)
63. How Not to Write a Novel, Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman (7/10- 7/13)
64. *Imitation in Death (#17), JD Robb (7/14)
65. Don’t Stay Up Late, RL Stine (7/15)
66. 21 Proms, (7/16- 8/16)
67. A Certain Light, Garth Stein (7/21- 7/27)
68. The 100-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, Jonas Jonasson(7/29- 8/4)
69. Siri & Me: A Modern Love Story, David Milgrim (7/30)
70. Forever, Chanda Hahn (8/7- 8/8)
71. Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel, (8/9- 8/11)
72. The Fine Art of Pretending, Rachel Harris (8/12- 8/14)
73. Unpublished manuscript of my critique partner (8/17- 8/21)
74. The Love Book, Rachel Harris (8/21- 8/25)
75. The Darkest Part of the Forest, Rachel Harris (8/27)
76. Grey, EL James (8/27- 9/4)
77. x# To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee (9/5)
78. The Giver, Lois Lowry (9/10- 9/11)
79. Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Babbit (9/13)
80. The Martian, Andy Weir (9/14- 9/15)
81. It, Stephen King (9/17- 12/10)
82. Between the Lines, Jodi Picoult & Samantha Van Leer (9/20- 9/21)
83. Which Brings Me To You, Steve Almond & Julianna Baggott (10/8- 10/11)
84. The Seventh Tower, Book 1, The Fall, Garth Nix (10/12)
85. The Seventh Tower, Book 2, Castle, Garth Nix (10/13)
86. The Seventh Tower, Book 3, Aenir, Garth Nix (10/14)
87. The Seventh Tower, Book 4, Above the Veil, Garth Nix (10/14- 10/15)
88. The Seventh Tower, Book 5, Into Battle, Garth Nix (10/15- 10/16)
89. The Seventh Tower, Book 6, The Violet Keystone, Garth Nix (10/16)
90. Hanover House, Brenda Novak (10/19- 10/20)
91. *Out of the Shadows, Kay Hooper (10/22)
92. Off the Page, Jodi Picoult & Samantha Van Leer (10/31- 11/1)
93. Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari (11/2- 11/10)
94. Carter & Lovecraft, Jonathan L. Howard (11/4- 11/5)
95. After You, Jojo Moynes (11/7- 11/8)
96. *If I Stay, Gayle Forman (11/9)
97. *Where She Went, Gayle Forman (11/12)
98. x Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (11/17- 11/26)
99. A Certain Slant of Light, Laura Whitcomb (11/29- 12/1)
100. Ready, Player One, Ernest Cline (12/14- 12/17)
101. =* Life Expectancy, Dean Koontz (12/15- 12/31)
102. Same Kind of Different as Me, Ron Hall & Denver Moore (12/21/15- 12/23/15)