Friday, February 20, 2009

Maybe you can't ...

... go home again: Re-reading the literature of my youth.

I don’t know what I expected when I read “Farewell” again over 30 years later, but it has proven to be a huge disappointment.
I had a similar experience a few years ago when I tried to re-read Alain-Fournier's Le grand Meaulnes, which seemed to me utterly magical when I first read it in my teens. Back then, I was given to reading certain parts of it over and over. They were like incantations, turning my dreams almost into life. Reading it decades later, however, while I could still feel the magic on the page, it was as if some portal had been closed to me, and I could no longer participate. I did not belong there anymore.


  1. " was as if some portal had been closed to me, and I could no longer participate."

    I love this line.

    The question is, though: Do you want to participate at this point?

    Most of the material that kept me alive in my teens (almost literally) falls, these days, somewhere between alien and embarrassing. I think I spent an entire month of my 19th year short-cutting every responsibility I had to rush back to my room to read passages from Richard Bach's "Illusions" and listen to The Smiths' "Strangeways..." on my boom box -- but thinking back on it now, it's as if I'm remembering someone else's life.


  2. That's exactly why I haven't reread Look Homeward, Angel, even though I've picked it up with that intention several times. I just cannot imagine it's holding up very well after 40+ years; it's so very much a young man's book.

  3. I don't think, Hedgie, it's that the books don't hold up. It's that we move on, as the authors could not, dying young as they did. Everybody nowadays talks about the physical effects of growing old. I am in preternaturally good shape given how I lived my life, but what I find hard about growing old is facing who I planned to be and who I turned out to be. There is such a difference.
    And Greg, there is no need to be embarrassed, and it's nice to hear someone say something nice about Richard Bach. I know what the critics said him. So it may not be not great literature. But if he drew out of you something you may not have suspected was there, then God bless him.

  4. To be honest, it's more humorous than it is embarrassing. And yeah, Bach is better than he's given credit for (and so is, for that matter, Stephen Morrissey and Co.).

    I'm afraid I can't really empathize with the existential crisis of trying to juxtapose the me I'd hope for against the me that is. And not because I'm relatively young (if nearing 40 counts as "young"). But because I never really "planned to be" anything.

    Funny. I remember being in 8th grade and being visited by some representative from the local vo tech high school. He gave a presentation on his school, letting us know that, hey, not all people are into books and studying, and for those who'd like to work with their hands, yadda yadda. And I got a bone chill in that auditorium, struck by the thought that, at only 12 years old, I was in a position to make a decision that could influence my entire life. (Not that I'd've gone to vo tech in a million years, I'm just saying.) And that was the starting point of years and years of wondering when, just when, it was going to dawn on me just what I wanted "to be."

    I never figured it out. And right now, in this moment so many years later, I'm realizing how lucky I am for that.