Visiting Old Friends



by Raymond M. Coulombe

I’ve got a real hard time letting old books go. That may be why I have more books than the local town library. So why do I hang onto books that I’ve already read? A big reason is that I often read them again.

Some people don’t get that. To them, you read a book and it’s over. The book doesn’t change and you’ve already read it.

That is true, the book does not change, but you do. My understanding of a book I read now is totally different than my understanding of the same book when I was a teenager. I’ve had years to love deeply, feel disappointment, joy, contentment, betrayal, hate, and to have suffered. Live changes you.

Sometimes books I thought were so brilliant as a young man turn out to be pretty shallow with my deeper understanding of life. Other times I’m amazed at the things I totally missed when I was younger. There are writers who stand the test of time. Others are still brilliant, but not in the ways I thought back then. Some are good, but only in a narrow bandwidth. Somethings they may portray some things with true talent and other parts are of their writing lack the same spark.

It’s a big deal for me. Many of those books became templates for my life. They were my teachers. As it turned out I could have done much worse than learning from S/F and Fantasy books. Of course, I read just about everything I could get my hands on, but S/F and Fantasy were my go to choices. It didn’t matter as good writers know stories are about people, even if the settings were exotic.

If you’ve been out of school for a while go back and read some of the books they made you read back in the day. You may be surprised how differently you feel about them now.

There are some old favorites I keep going back to. Every few years I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy., just to go on the journey one more time. Another favorite of mine is Zelazney’s Amber Series, the original one with Corwin.

Recently I’ve been going back to Heinlein’s later works. Those books inspired me to become self-reliant and to learn many different skills. However, life has also shown me the value of community and that there are times when, in spite of all your skills, you need the help of others. My early readings of Heinlein missed that part. It’s not emphasized at all, but it is in there. It especially shows up in Time Enough for Love, where a dying Lazarus Long is nursed back to health and given reasons to live.

True, sometimes I read an old book and wonder what the heck I ever saw in it years ago. There’s a lesson in that too. That’s the beauty of going back to the same books, older eyes have a bit more wisdom behind them.

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