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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

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Books Then, Books Now

Eleven-year-old me would never have read Harry Potter.

Seems weird, doesn't it, especially given that that's Harry Potter's target age. Nowadays I sort of envy people who had the joy of growing up with a magical book series that spoke to them so directly.

I had this thought while I was at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books last month. I was hanging out with a friend, we were browsing the tents and talking about our favorite books and authors, and I was once again struck by a question that came to mind now and then. This time, rather than mulling it over quietly and letting it drift away, I decided to run it by my friend.

Isn't it funny how the books you read as an adult can be so different from the books that made you fall in love with reading in the first place?
Take me, for instance. Honestly, I would take a chance on just about any book that was put in front of me, but I did have my preferences. My mom, who always kept an eye out for books for me at the local yard sales, knew she’d win me over with anything that featured animals. The Fox Busters by Dick King-Smith, Catwings by Ursula K. Le Guin, The Cat Sitter Mystery by Carol Adorjan, The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford, and of course White Fang and The Call of the Wild (Jack London was my hero).

I also enjoyed The Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley Kids, but I was nuts for any stories that featured animals (bonus points if they talked).

Contemporary fiction? Science fiction? Fantasy? Not so much. I saw A Wrinkle in Time at the school library once, thought the cover was pretty, but never borrowed it. I tried a couple of Goosebumps books because my friends were reading them. I bravely endeavored to read The Fellowship of the Ring for a class in high school, but gave up halfway through. 

Elves, trolls, vampires, werewolves, fair folk? 
The idea was ludicrous to me.

 And now here we are, years later, and I read those things almost exclusively. Give me weird creatures in heaps and spades, and throw in a few witches, demons, ominous prophecies, seven-league boots, magical swords disguised as pens, floating markets, and yes, of course, bring on the talking animals.

So, what changed? I certainly love animal stories, but I really can’t remember reading one since The Plague Dogs, at least a decade ago. It sometimes seems as if a switch in my mind was flipped off, and another flipped on. Did I outgrow my animal stories and yearn for something new? Did Harry Potter open my mind up to the allure of magic and mythology? Has the inclination always been there, and I simply did not know to nurture it—for I must admit, along with those animal stories, I was fascinated by fairy tales.

 Perhaps I was simply ready for characters a little more… human. Characters that looked like me, expressed emotions and experienced obstacles that resembled my own… even if they did feature the odd sword or talisman.

What about you? Do you and your inner child share the same reading tastes, or are you polar opposites?


  1. I've always loved fantasy, but I think I've grown to like it more as I've gotten older. Also - Catwings RULES.

  2. I've noticed that my taste for fantasy as a child has refined to more magical realism, which seems to be trending on my reading list these days. But I actually think the stories that appeal to me now still have a lot of the same themes. Perhaps they're just more complicated/mature versions of the same stories. But I do think that genre fiction has always had a certain stereotype that might put people off, so I would agree that Harry Potter is a bit of a gateway drug to that... because people realize that there are a lot of human themes and ordinary relatable characters that exist in these extraordinary worlds.