I've just turned in my introduction to Tor's forthcoming Essentials edition of Ursula K. Le Guin's Worlds of Exile and Illusion, and in it I think a lot about time and distance and experience where books are concerned. This prompted me to write up a Twitter thread (it's all part of the process) about the notion of coming to books "late," and the odd apology that sometimes accompanies the act of taking a while to read a book, or being insufficiently versed in something rated as canonical. I wanted to push back on that a bit.
As a reader, there is a peculiar pleasure at once quiet & fierce that comes from encountering a book outside the context of its initial reception. (There are different pleasures that come from learning those contexts--I'm still a scholar, for my sins--but that's something else.)— Amal El-Mohtar (@tithenai) May 30, 2021
That (and a few more tweets) said, I do find myself thinking of times I read a book too early, before I had fully developed the means to appreciate it. There are books that I didn't enjoy or found confusing the first time around (The Lord of the Rings, The Handmaid's Tale) that I've been dazzled by on a re-read; there are books that I didn't enjoy and became actively afraid of enjoying at some future date, because I felt that in order to do so I'd have to have become a much sadder person (Little, Big). And of course there are books that I probably shouldn't have read at the age that I did, like The Grapes of Wrath (I was a very precocious 11 year old), or the very bloody and sexually explicit thriller called Romeo that I checked out of the library thinking it was to do with Shakespeare (it was not).
Do you have books you think of chiefly in terms of whether you arrived at them too early or too late? Are there any you've revisited and found transformed for the better? Are there any you're glad to have encountered exactly when you did, whenever that was?
I'd like us to be wizards to our books, never late or early, finding something crucial & irreplaceable in the encounter one way or another: a seed to sow for later, a stitch in time, a feast, a jewel. Whatever you do with it later--you're not late. You've arrived.— Amal El-Mohtar (@tithenai) May 30, 2021
Postscripts of news:
- I wrote a piece of a piece of theatre! In the absolute weirdest time to be attempting to make theatre! It's called Dressed as People, it's world-premiering at this year's virtual edition of the Ottawa Fringe Festival, and you can get your tickets here! You can view it on demand from June 17-27, but you'll want to grab those tickets early because we're planning a bunch of synchronous events, more on which soon!
- I was extremely, delightfully startled to encounter my name in The New Yorker, in a gorgeous piece by one of my absolute favourite writers!
- If you've just signed up, welcome! I released a big ol' Letter of News earlier this week, if you'd like to get a sense of some of the other stuff I'm up to.
- I got my first vaccine jab today! Ahhh!