Friday, November 6, 2009

Books that I Grew Up With (and that Made Me Grow)

I first read Lois Lowry's THE GIVER in junior high, when I was just beginning to appreciate literary symbolism. I remember how gray Jonas's world was, literally and figuratively, and how he discovered the color red. I remember the ceremony in which he became the new Giver, and I remember the old Giver, his wrinkles and his age, and his weariness. I even remember the final scene, that image of Jonas whooshing away on his toboggan.

What I didn't remember was the baby, Gabriel--not until I reread it, anyway. I picked up the book again a few weeks ago to refresh my memory of its themes, but it was the baby that stuck out to me. I'd forgotten about little Gabe and his developmental struggles, his lack of perfection. I'd forgotten that Jonas flees the community with the baby to save his life. And I'd never even realized that, as he and Jonas are whooshing away on the toboggan, they're actually dying.

The ending's interpretation is up for debate, I guess, but as I read those final pages, tears dripping down my face, that was what they meant to me--this time. Interesting how the same words, the same scene, can communicate something so completely different to me now. Because although the book hasn't changed, I have.

My brother-in-law never reads the same book twice, but I read the same books over and over again for this very reason: to see how I see them now. And the disparity is never more pronounced than when I reread the books I remember from my childhood.

Take TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, for example. I also read this book for the first time in junior high (whoever decided fourteen-year-olds could grasp this one was a knucklehead), and when I read it again a few months ago, I was surprised at how little of it I'd understood back then. I remember my fourteen-year-old self saying something like, "Well, it was a good book [I think I mostly said this to sound intelligent], but what the heck did that Boo Radley have to do with anything?" But this time, as I stood with Scout on Boo's porch and saw her world through his eyes, all the subplots and the symbolism and the characters swirled together into one beautiful, complex whole. Tom Robinson, as it turns out, wasn't the only mockingbird in that story, just the more obvious one.

Does that ever happen to you? Do you ever pick up a book again and discover it afresh? Do you ever go back to your childhood in the pages of a book? And if so, what have you found?


Myrna Foster said...

Lowry has written two companion books to The Giver, Gathering Blue and The Messenger (just in case you'd like to know whether or not they died).

Hi, I'm a writer mom, and I live in Logandale. I clicked on the link on your comment on Natalie Whipple's blog an noticed you're over in Mesquite and that we follow a lot of the same blogs.

Krista G. said...

Very cool, Myrna. Nice to meet you:) Isn't this glorious weather we've been having?

Myrna Foster said...

Yes, but I wouldn't mind it cooling off another ten degrees. We turned off our air-conditioning last month, and it's still too warm inside.

I like to read books over and over too. I don't usually buy a book unless I've read and loved it.