My recollections of books are affected by my mental state and life experiences at the time of reading almost as much as they are by the well-crafted words on the page. These added dimensions make rereading an old favorite a risky proposition for me.
Despite the risks, there are occasions when the mood hits just right, and I am lured back into the comfortable pages of an old friend. I’m hesitant to succumb, however, since several times I’ve shocked when the book doesn’t stand up to my own mental hype. When I try to revisit not only the text but the memories it evoked, it can feel like looking through a fun house mirror, where everything is distorted. Those results, when they happen, can be eye opening.
Whenever anyone asks me what book has most influenced me, my answer has always been Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham.
The story of Philip, a young man who doesn’t know what he wants his future to hold, was exactly what I needed in my senior year of high school. He is restless in a way I never dared to be. As the story progressed, I thought his relationship with Mildred was how love should be: full of passion and selfless devotion. The ending, where I perceived him as settling for less, left me so sad for him that I wept for hours.
I reread the book upon reaching the milestone age of 30. It was like catching up with an old friend … until Mildred entered the picture. How had I not seen how fake she was? How did I want that type of a relationship? I shook my head even harder when I got to the end, and tears of joy rolled down my cheeks for how Philip’s life turns out.
It was as if another person had read it the first time. In a way, that was exactly what had happened. The rereading showed me how much I’d grown as a person, and I cherish that yardstick.
I’m not sure what will happen when I go back to it again, which I’m sure will happen at some point. Meanwhile it sits in a prominent spot on my bookcase, where all my life-shaping books live.
Have you ever been shocked by how different a book was from your memory upon rereading it? or What book has had the most influence in your life?