Tuesday, September 28, 2010

You can't go home again....

Here's a wonderful article about the literary genesis of two of the 20th century's most beloved characters, the Hardy Boys. Don't let the fact that the article is twelve years old dissuade you; it's a very entertaining and enlightening read. The guy who wrote those books led a fascinating, and surprising, life. But the article is also interesting in capturing a sensation I'm sure if familiar to all people who love to read:

I recently rediscovered my youth. It made me sneeze.

It lay unremembered at the top of a tall bookcase: 15 vintage Hardy Boys novels by Franklin W. Dixon. In getting them down I took a faceful of dust and beetle carapaces.

I carried the books to my favorite rocking chair, beside my favorite lamp, and reverently broke them open to revisit the literature that had inspired in me a lifelong love of language. The pages were as thick as a shirt collar and ochered with age. They smelled the way old books smell, faintly perfumed, quaintly mysterious, like the lining of Great-Grandma's alligator handbag out in the steamer trunk. I began to read.

Pretty soon a new smell entered the room.

The Hardy Boys stank.

Funny. Re-reading old favorites can be a deep, deep danger to us when we come back to books out of a sense of nostalgia. Yes, I've had this feeling myself, although no examples are leaping to mind just now. But then, I don't do as much direct re-reading as some other readers do. Only once in a while do I really re-read a book in its entirety; more often, I just "dip into" old favorites to refresh my memory on passages I recall enjoying. But yes, I've had the "Oh my God, this beloved old classic is actually a steaming bowl of suck!" feeling.

Which brings me to this wonderful post by Jo Walton about how this comes to pass:

The Suck Fairy is an artefact of re-reading. If you read a book for the first time and it sucks, it’s nothing to do with her. It just sucks. Some books do. The Suck Fairy comes in when you come back to a book that you liked when you read it before, and on re-reading—well, it sucks. You can say that you have changed, you can hit your forehead dramatically and ask yourself how you could possibly have missed the suckiness the first time—or you can say that the Suck Fairy has been through while the book was sitting on the shelf and inserted the suck. The longer the book has been on the shelf unread, the more time she’s had to get into it. The advantage of this is exactly the same as the advantage of thinking of one’s once-beloved ex as having been eaten by a zombie, who is now shambling around using the name and body of the former person. It lets one keep one’s original love clear of the later betrayals.

Yup, I've met the Suck Fairy myself. She's an irritating lass, I gotta say. But I generally tend to be lucky in not remembering things I loved through rose-colored glasses, if that makes sense; I'm usually pretty good at realizing that things that weren't very good actually weren't very good, so by the time I come back to them later in life, I don't find that massive epiphany ("OMG, this is shite!"). In fact, I tend to err in the other way, which is how I watch movies like Krull or Battle Beyond the Stars now and end up thinking, "Huh...not as awful as I expected it to be."

But then, maybe I'm just generically pessimistic.


popeyemoon said...

ROFL Suck Fairy have to tell my shrink that.

Mimi said...

Heh. I've had the Suck Fairy strike too.