Books of My Life

Last week, author Jennifer Crusie wrote a blog post titled Bibliamnesia at www.arghink.com  

It was an interesting discussion. Go and check it out. The post was about books that we had read at a younger age and then found on re-reading that they no longer spoke to us, or worse, that we couldn’t even remember. I thought long and hard but couldn’t come up with any titles or authors. It seemed I loved everything I’d ever read. That intrigued me because so many of Jenny’s readers had wonderful examples. Then I got to thinking about books and how at different times in my life I read different types and how they all provided me with what I seemed to need from an emotional viewpoint. They educated, comforted, and provided an escape, or better yet, an adventure. It would be disloyal to those old friends to say they no longer mattered. I know. I’m weird. Here is a photo of the shelf closest to my writing desk.

When you grow up in a small house with six siblings, two parents, a couple of dogs and cats and a backyard henhouse, it’s kind of hard to find some quiet time. Reading for me was a huge escape. I had my favorite fallen tree trunk down in the back paddock. If I sat behind it nobody could see me from the house, and yet I was close enough to hear Mum call us in for dinner, which was a very important thing in my young life.

Anyway, I thought about the books I read as a young girl. My parents belonged to a book club and received a book-a-month. I read those even if they were beyond my years. I had a library card and I used it often. We mostly read the British classics in school. My personal reading choices were all about the desire to be somewhere else, anywhere but with my family. And as a pre-teen, my chosen reading materials all had heroines who were solving mysteries. Romance was in the far distant future. Then in my early teens I read a lot of adventure stories because my older brother read those, and I thought he was so smart. From mid-teens to eighteen I read escape stories … you know the type that swept you up and took you to remote Scottish Islands, or England, or for me America (because I grew up in Australia.)

From late teens into early twenties, I was involved with learning everything about nursing. As a nurse-in- training, I read everything on anatomy and physiology, biochemistry, and of course, psychology. It was the latter that I loved the most. I was heavily into dating at this point in my life, plus studying, and working long hard shifts at the hospital, so there wasn’t much time for escapist reading, but I kept up with whatever was hitting the bestseller lists. After getting my RN degree, I moved away from home and became an airline stewardess for a couple of years, and had all kinds of wonderful experiences. And I read a lot on those lay-overs, or while waiting in airports. And yet, still no romantic fiction. Then I moved to the United States. Wow! I was living my adventures. Some years later, I married and began to raise a family and reading for pleasure took another back seat, except of course, reading to the kids. But I did keep up with the Robert Ludlum’s and Ken Follett’s, and an occasional bestseller that was highly recommended. Some years later, I divorced, and then came the years of self-help books. Oh yes, I had a library full of them. : )

The kids grew and went off to do what kids do, and I dipped my toe into the world of romance, but only a toe, with an occasional Danielle Steele, Maeve Binchy, Rosamunde Pilcher, or Nora Roberts. Distant places started calling me again, and I spent a lot of years travelling and experiencing all kinds of adventures. My gypsy soul was happy. Around twelve years ago, I started writing. I thought I was writing romance but those early attempts turned out to be women’s fiction. Someone introduced me to Romance Writers of America. Oh, dear. Where had I been? A whole new world opened up to me, and I had a ton of catching up to do. I read voraciously. I studied every style of romance novel that I could get my hands on, and discovered Jennifer Crusie, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Pat Gaffney, and Lani Diane Rich, to name a few. There were so many authors to admire and to want to emulate. And yet, I still read from the classics, and I read women’s fiction journeys, and the occasional mystery or thriller.

To say that any book I’d read no longer spoke to me would be like saying those years, those early experiences, didn’t matter. Each book, whether good, bad, or ugly, meant a lot to me. Each book helped me to understand myself better. I’m sure that if I tried to reread some of them now they wouldn’t stand the test of time due to style, value changes, a slower pace of living, or a less technological era. But I don’t need to reread them. They were what they were, special to me…at that time. I’m just going to hold them all dear. What about you? Is there something you’ve reread lately that had you scratching your head and thinking what was I thinking? Or have you reread something and given a huge sigh of satisfaction?

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24 Responses to Books of My Life

  1. Hi Robena – I know this may sound weird, but I don’t re-read books – even if I love them. I know people love to see movies lots of times when they love them, and I have certainly done that. But when it comes to reading – I haven’t re-read the books I’ve loved. Like you, I hold them in my heart in a special place and that’s where they’ll stay forever crowned as a favorite – they don’t have to worry about me re-reading and stripping them of their crowns! 🙂

  2. Robena Grant says:

    I knew you would understand, and I love that last sentence. : ) If the book touched us in some way at some time, then that was meaningful, right?

  3. Diane Anderson-Kwan says:

    Lynne: I loved that last sentence, too! And like you, I don’t reread my favorites, but hold them in my heart and on my favorite’s bookshelf in a place of honor. The first book to hold the top spot was Frenchman’s Creek, by Daphne DuMaurier.

    Robena: It appears we have been living parallel lives! I was astonished at reading your account from your childhood (your six siblings, my five) and finding time away to read, and even your choice of reading material. I, also went on to study nursing only to get bit by the wanderlust bug and became a flight attendant! Marriage, kids, work took over my life for years, but I never stopped reading and came to reading romance during those long years of raising three kids, divorce, and career changes. Now, all the kids have gone off to college, and I’ve recently retired, but the one constant in my life has been reading. I recently took a writing course and began researching the regency period (my favorite romance genre) and hopefully, in the near future I will start down a new road – writing my first romance novel. : )

    • Robena Grant says:

      Diane, your post made me smile. Thank you, and yes it does seem that we chose similar paths in life. You should definitely write. The pleasure I’ve gained through writing and the places that writing has taken me, the friends of like mind that I’ve met, have truly been outstanding and a wonderful comfort.

  4. Lucie Simone says:

    Hi Robena!
    I loved reading about your life & reading experiences. Like you, the books I read at different stages of life served a purpose. They gave me what I needed at the time. Books that made the biggest impressions on me are still on my bookshelf today. I don’t re-read them, but I just like knowing they’re there if I want to. Sometimes, I pick them up and read a paragraph or two, just for inspiration.

  5. Robena Grant says:

    Lucie!! Long time no see! Hope you are doing well and thanks for stopping by. : )
    I have done exactly what you said: opened a book and read a couple of paragraphs and then put it back on the shelf with a sigh. It’s like tapping into a sweet memory.

  6. I’m a reader, and a re-reader. Some books offer more to me every time I visit them – like The Mists of Avalon, The Lathe of Heaven, Little Women, and Gone With The Wind. Other books, it’s like going back to your childhood home and wondering who SHRUNK everything. They spoke to me at the time in some way, and now… not so much. Bertrice Small romances fall into that category for me – now I can see the flaws.

    • Robena Grant says:

      Yes, I totally agree, Bev. Things looked so much bigger when we were small. With those books that blew my socks off as a kid, well I want to always hold them dear. It would be such a disappointment to reread them and then dislike them.

  7. Maria says:

    I still love my favorites even though they may not be favorites now. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Phantom Tollbooth, Alice in Wonderland, Harriet the Spy, Anne of Green Gables, all of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, and etc…, and I do re-read books.

    Sometimes I re-read the books from my childhood to reconnect to that young girl who believed that anything was possible. I re-read to get that feeling again. When my dad passed away it was all of my old favorites that I could still read, but I couldn’t read anything new for close to 9 months.

    Books are my friends. They take me back to places I visited and to times in my life. I don’t re-read to catch that first time magic again because that can’t happen. I re-read to remember who I was, what I felt and where I’ve been. I re-read some books to see where they will take me now. I can’t imagine my life without some of my all time favorites always being there ready to be read again.

    • Robena Grant says:

      What a great thought, Maria: I don’t re-read to catch that first time magic again because that can’t happen.
      That is so true. And there are many books I’ve reread and several times, and I’ve even gotten more out of some than I did the first time. Pride and Prejudice is one book I can read over and over and over again. : )

  8. Marge says:

    I rarely re-read a book but some books I just cannot part with. I like to walk by the book shelve and glance over the titles and sometimes wonder what the characters in the book are doing now. Some characters become like close friends and you have great memories of them or concerns about them.

    • Robena Grant says:

      That’s so true, Marge. I think when you’re left with that feeling of knowing the characters, and wondering what they’re up to, then it’s a sign that the author did an excellent job. I have many books that do that for me. : )

  9. Nan says:

    Every few years, I reread All This and Heaven, Too by Rachel Field–always get the same feeling of satisfaction when I finish it. Same for Gene Stratton-Porter’s The Harvester, Girl of the Limberlost, and Freckles, which were books my mom read to us when we were growing up. They are all free Kindle books on Amazon, so find them if you’re inclined. They’re wonderful! But, I’ve also gone back and picked up some of the older Harlequin titles that I adored when I first started reading romance about 32 years ago–they don’t have the same cachet anymore. Not sure why…maybe as we get older, tastes change.

    Great topic, Roben!

    • Robena Grant says:

      Hi, Nan. Yes, maybe in romantic fiction the subject matter is too close to who we are as women.
      When we’re young and impressionable we’re still exploring what love is, and then life changes and we mature and really fall in love and our taste in books change. Then as more of life and its ups and downs and losses occur, we shift again. So it’s logical that to go back and read what we read and adored as a teenager would not give us the same rush today. We are older and wiser. ; )

  10. I struggle to find time to read, but back when I had time to read a couple of books a week, I’d often return to some of my favorites. The record holder is Gone With the Wind, which I can easily say I’ve probably read 20 times. I’ve seen the movie at least 15 times. (I think I keep hoping the ending will be different.)

    Recently, I picked up another old favorite to study how the writer had introduced some characters. I immediately was drawn into the story, and if I hadn’t had to leave the house, I would have sat down and started to read the book again.

    For me, it’s like visiting old friends whose lives and stories I know well. But it’s still nice to see them and laugh, cry and be in their corner rooting for them…even if I can’t change the ending.

  11. Robena Grant says:

    Yes, many of these books are like old friends, Kathy. Loved GWTW but I certainly haven’t read it that many times. : ) I feel like this with some of my favorite movies too, and even though I know the story well, I still cry in the same places.

  12. Hi Robena! I so enjoy reading your posts. I also never read romance growing up, but the books I did read for fun – mysteries, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, all shaped my love for fiction. I don’t usually reread books, but I will reread passages that made an impression on me. I *love* going back to a key scene or bit of dialogue that I can’t get out of my head and enjoying it again word for word.

    • Robena Grant says:

      Ooooh, me too, Robin. I’ll even pinch up the bottom corner of a page to mark a phrase or a paragraph that speaks to me. I did it yesterday with Barbara Samuels (Barbara O’Neal) latest book, The Garden of Happy Endings. : )

  13. Carol says:

    Hi Robena ~ re-read books all the time. If I’m a little down, I re-read happy scenes from my favourite authors. Now that I write, I love re-reading and “seeing the flow” of the book. AND …. congratulations on the book offer. So very happy for you. I’m dancing for you up here.

    • Robena Grant says:

      Thanks for coming by, Carol. I reread all of Crusie’s books. : )And thanks for the congrats! There has been a lot of dancing going on in Casa Robena. : )

  14. Janie Emaus says:

    I’ve never reread a book. That may seem weird, but there are too many books to be read. I’ve reread passages, but not whole books.

  15. Robena – I also want to say congrats on your success at being published soon!
    I reread all of Crusie’s books, too. I don’t know how many times I’ve reread Maybe This Time. Lots, that’s for sure.

    • Robena Grant says:

      Judy, you got stuck in moderation. : ) Sorry about that. But yes, Crusie’s are definitely rereads for me. And thank you so much for your congrats. It’s an exciting time.

  16. Robena Grant says:

    Hi Janie, it seems like you’re in good company as many others do that too. Apart from some of Crusie’s novels and P&P I don’t reread either. I think Bet Me and Charlie all Night just speak to me and provide some sort of comfort. Maybe I’ve got a secret crush on the heroes in those novels. : )