Reading Like a Virgin

You know those books that  just grab you on the first read? The kind that drop you into another world, shake your senses, rattle your frame of reference, steal your breath with suspense, and hook you instantly like meth? It may be over the top to compare Lord of the Rings, or Harry Potter to speed, but once I started reading these tales, I was jittery at work, anxious for my 9-5 shift to end and my re-immersion into Hogwarts or Moria to begin. Nerd alert, yes!

I was a fantasy junkie when it came to Order of the Phoenix. I hid from the world for days and weeks unable to tear myself away despite hunger pangs for want of dinner, despite having to wake early and drudge myself to work or class. Psychologically chained and emotionally invested in Harry, Ron, and Hermoine’s friendship or utterly intrigued and beguiled at Dr. Strange‘s facile nature, who fooled a whole nation and tripped a global empire.

Like falling in love, I will never forget the exhileration slipping into these literary realms. Reading was just as dizzying and intoxicating as a highschool crush. I couldn’t pull myself away. I fantasized and daydreamed that those fictions could be my reality. I lay in bed, book firmly in my grasp, me, snugly under the covers, cocooned in literary paradise. And like highschool crushes, I look back and long for those stretches of pure anticipation, when the unfolding of a deceptively simple tale, such as destroying a ring or procrastinating spring cleaning for a jaunt in the countryside seemed the height of suspense and wild imagination.

I have a friend who is reading the Harry Potter series now, and I envy her “first time” experience. I will never be able to recreate the excitement and expectation when confronting Shelob. I’ll never taste the same relish of pure discovery alongside Frog, Toad, and Mole. I only wish I could recapture the delight of The Wind in the Willows, or feel that shattering blow to the stomach when S—– B—- dies.

I asked another friend if he could re-read any text for the “first time” again, which tale would he choose. He astonished me with Mrs Dalloway and Ulysses. Two works that when I first read, I was utterly lost and impatient. I hadn’t even considered “grown up” masterpieces. Perhaps that’s my handicap in equating first reads to highschool crushes. There’s that sense of innocence and benign experience.

I’m currently re-reading my highschool classics, Return of the Native, Candide, and Jane Eyre. These are tales that afforded no suspenseful thrill at the age of fifteen or seventeen, but swept me to the moors in existential angst. If I could do it all again, I’d much rather be seduced into a literary life with faeries and riverboating.

How about you? What text would you like to be “touched for the very first time” with all over again? What’s your like-a-virgin pick?

Touched for the very first time

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1 Comment

  1. I still remember being gripped by Order of the Phoenix and Deathly Hallows, too! Funnily enough, none of the literary novels I’ve ever read has ever incited that same kind of excitement in me. Maybe it’s because these adventure novels allow us to set aside adult restraint, and just let us indulge a part of our brain that has long been abandoned like items of childhood.

    That’s not too say my adult reading days have all been for naught. I still relish the first time I read Joyce Carol Oates’s “them,” or John Updike’s “Rabbit, Run” or Gore Vidal’s “The City and the Pillar” et al. It’s always a matter of recapturing the feeling of having discovered something great in the past. Every once in a while I’ll stumble upon something. Recently I just discovered an author named Chris Adrian, one of whose stories about 9/11 just knocked me out. I just also discovered A.M. Homes, who has such a bold and dissonant style. But the problem is the sifting through the crap to get to the great. If bookshelves were populated with less crap, we wouldn’t be wishing for those like-a-virgin days again.

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