During my recent recuperation from surgery, I sent my son to the book store with a list of books to buy. I’d jotted them down from a quick scan of the NY Times best seller list, which may explain why one of them was a paperback I’d read when it first came out in hardback. I’m not surprised that I forgot a title, but what does surprise me is that I liked it. As soon as I started reading, I recognized it and remembered that I had despised the book when I first read it. If I hadn’t been so bored with lying in bed, I might not have continued to read, but I’m glad I did. The things in the book that offended me the first time now seemed innocuous, and the ending that seemed contrived seemed inevitable and right.
No two people ever read the same book. We all project into whatever we read our own sensibilities, our own experiences, our own beliefs. No matter what story the author wrote, every story we read is uniquely our own. The alterations we make to what the author wrote may be subtle, but to a large extent they determine whether we love or hate a book.
My experience with the novel I formerly hated and now like points up another fact: we never read the same book twice. Change is a part of life, and while we may change so imperceptibly from day to day that we aren’t aware of it, we take on different attitudes that alter our interpretation of books we read, movies we watch, music we hear. Books we once thought held fascinating insights may seem banal when we reread them years later. And, as I just realized, books that we hated just a year or two ago may seem a lot more entertaining now. The books don’t change; we do. So if somebody asks me if I’m the same person I was a year ago, I’ll have to say that I’m not. I’m not sure exactly how I’ve changed, but the book I just read proves that I have.