In 2014 I set out to explore versions of my former self through books that had been particularly dear. I hypothesized that by identifying their specialness upon first reading them, I had somehow infused their pages with my contextualized self, creating a permanent shadow of me at that particular moment in time.
This notion of marking time and discovering points of connection between former and present versions of self is an idea that has fascinated me ever since I was very young. In my post, “Marking Time” https://marabhuber.com/?s=marking+time I explained,
When I was a young child I had a strange image that would often come to me. I would see myself replicated in a long line with my present self somewhere toward the back and many more versions ahead of me, extending way into the future. In this vision I -my current self- would be waving furiously trying to get the attention of my future selves, but to no avail. In retrospect it seems much of my young life was spent racing ahead trying to catch up to the me(s) in the front, seeking out experiences and ideas that would propel me forward.
For me, books have been time machines, allowing me to revisit, reflect, and sharpen my understanding. But until now, my journeys have always been solitary. So imagine my delight when my youngest daughter, Natalie, joined me for an unexpected journey back in time.
The trigger was a science video detailing the impacts of reintroducing wolves into Yellowstone National Park. Through a series of before and after sequences, the narrator followed the impacts of a single predator on a vast and interconnected ecosystem, demonstrating the far-reaching effects of a single manipulation that was initially deemed small and unimportant.
As I listened to Natalie try to explain why she found this to be so utterly compelling, trying to get her head around how far this idea could be taken and extrapolated, I immediately thought of a similar story that had captured my own imagination when I was her age. It was a short story by Ray Bradbury in which a group of hunters traveled back in time to the age of the dinosaurs. The hunters were led on an adventure that was closely controlled, with clear instructions to never leave the trail, that any misstep could alter the details of history, leading to unforeseen consequences and implications.
As I found myself recounting this story, which I hadn’t read in over thirty years, Natalie seemed to appreciate the significance of connection. She recognized the specialness of a common theme and idea fascinating both of us. She somehow saw – or felt- herself in me and me in her, and we both reveled in the intimacy.
Through the magic of the internet, I was able to quickly identify and download A Sound of Thunder. And within minutes, Natalie and I were huddled under a blanket, both enthralled, infusing the virtual pages with the essence of us- together- at this single precious moment in time.
Other posts about rereads https://marabhuber.com/?s=reread
Perhaps revisiting our youth is dangerous business. So dangerous, that our present narcissism prevents us from getting too close.
Did I find traces of my younger self within the pages of Hemingway’s The Garden of Eden? Certainly. In fact, I immediately recalled the titillation of discovering this gem within a small German book store, paying what had seemed an exorbitant amount, and reading it boldly; or rather, trying to be bold in the absence of anyone to care. I was only sixteen, living as an exchange student in a small village in Rheinland-Pfalz. I had wanted to explore the world, to become worldly.
Initially the cover had drawn me in. The plot had sounded so sophisticated and risqué. And yet, in the end, it was the every-day descriptions that stimulated my imagination- the food and cocktails, the setting and dialogue, all described so richly with excruciating detail. I remember thinking, how truly amazing that such mundane objects and actions could become so exquisite, making me feel so strangely alive.
Upon my most recent read- I have to admit that I have picked this one up several times since my first introduction- I still felt the same sense of stimulation. However, this time it wasn’t the minute details that dominated my attention. Clearly, they still felt electric, but I now understood that the energy was not their own. Instead, it was radiating from the underlying tensions of the characters and their respective relationships. And ultimately, it was the fragility of the situation itself, or perhaps the inevitability of its ruin, that charged every detail with a heightened sense of sharpness.
This theme of inevitability took on a prominence both within the central narrative and also the stories within a story that I had barely skimmed in earlier reads. The idea that once set into motion, our interactions build towards some unstoppable crescendo. And although there is a nobility in exhibiting restraint, discipline, holding to the belief that we ultimately have control, in the end we must allow our lives to run their course. This recognition in turn creates a sense of detachment, which is perhaps a self-indulgence or instead a protective shield. But regardless, once the crescendo is reached, there is simply no going back.
As I reflect on my self-imposed challenge (see “The Big Reread”), I have indeed found traces of my former self within the book’s well-worn pages. And have also witnessed the distance I have come. Through my experience I now appreciate the impact that relationships can have, projecting their colors onto things and places, as if throwing their energy like patterns on a screen. And yet in many ways I am still that same explorer, trying to be bold, and still drawn to the humming tensions that play out just under and around the surfaces.
*This post is part of an ongoing series associated with “The Big Reread”, posted on October 11th, 2014
Some twenty-five years after my original read, I returned to Siddhartha looking for a trace of the teenager I had been, and perspective on the distance I’ve since come.
Admittedly, my reread began with some frustration. I wanted desperately to remember how I was first connected with the book. This contextual detail has become an important thread in my recent evolution. I have learned to embrace connections and the serendipity/fate that often catalyzes my most meaningful encounters. But despite my best efforts I have been unable to uncover the source of my initial interest. I suppose the question of how a 15-year old would stumble upon such a heady read will remain a mystery, at least until it is ready to be revealed.
Yet my connection with the book was immediately apparent. Its cadence and voice spoke to me in a way that was familiar and intimate. The story of a boy who is bright and curious, acknowledged for his academic gifts and promise, but rejects the easy path for a journey of personal growth and enlightenment. The resonance with my own childhood made me laugh out loud; curious and smart, certainly, with a leaning toward blatant insubordination.
Of course I had loved this book. The beginning of the story was affirming, giving me the validation and approval that I had so desperately craved. I was a precocious child who yearned for so much more – more experiences, more meaning, more truth. And although I did well by everyone’s standards, I felt trapped by the small town, small ideas, and compliance to conventional teachings and wisdom.
It was this insatiable version of me who leapt from the pages, urging me to rush forward, skipping over details devouring the big ideas, leaving me hungry for more. But as I sat rereading Siddhartha, pacifying my inner child, slowly reading aloud to appreciate the cadence and beauty of the prose, I found myself suddenly alone. Although the lessons of Siddhartha’s later years rang resoundingly clear and true, poignantly speaking to the adult I now was, the text had lost all familiarity. I was clearly reading it for the first time.
I laughed out loud as the realization hit me. As a teenager I had obviously skipped over the entire second half, racing toward the end, ready for my next read. I had gotten what I needed, what I had wanted from Siddhartha’s early years, and had dramatically declared the book to be pivotal to my growth and evolution.
To the current me, Siddhartha is clearly about the wisdom of humility, the insights that come from the rhythms of nature and the intimacy of touching souls. It’s about the riches of a life lived with honesty and simplicity, and about receiving the gifts that come when we are ready.
Although I cried when I came to the end of Siddhartha, it was not from sadness. Yes, I had enjoyed reconnecting with the youthful impatient version of me, but I was grateful for the sense of peace and reflection that enveloped my second reading. And this time rather than rushing through to get to the good parts, I instead found myself lingering on every page, hesitant for the book to come to an end.
*This post is part of an ongoing series associated with “The Big Reread”, posted on October 11th, 2014
Perhaps there is no better gift than a book that speaks to your soul and becomes a trusted companion, ushering you through the discoveries of life.
The Little Prince was a gift that was waiting for me, hidden within a box of books donated by my mother-in-law for a fundraising sale that I was hosting.
Miraculously, it was never sold. Still with its dustcover intact, the 1972 copy- printed the same year as my birth- was peeking out from a pile of rejects, stretching and willing me to find it.
What a find it was. Every time I read The Little Prince I am brought to tears, touched by its beauty and the insights it offers. And like all good books, these discoveries change with the rhythms and resonance of my life.
When I first discovered my book, I was immediately overcome by its beautiful simplicity and the innocence of the Little Prince. I found his love for the flower so touching, his disappointment and bewilderment heart wrenching, and his exquisitely delicate character left me sobbing.
The second time I read the Little Prince, I had been drawn to an antique book store searching for a similar copy to give as a gift to my friend. Once again, it was waiting for me. Despite the owner’s insistence that no copies were in the store (he had just checked for another customer), there it was sitting patiently on the bookshelf. I was so happy to have found it that I sat down on the bench right there and read it from cover to cover wiping away my tears.
How interesting that my second reading revealed a Little Prince who was not so naïve at all. He spoke of simple yet absolute truths: the meaning of friendship and responsibility, the importance of having a purpose. It was through that second reading that I saw the Little Prince as truly wise and the men around him so foolish.
Several years have gone by since I picked up the Little Prince. But just yesterday it called to me once again.
This time I read through it quickly, the story now so familiar that I found it hard to pause and appreciate the beauty of the individual words. Somehow amidst the flowing cadence the phrase “matters of consequence” danced into my awareness, urging me to contemplate its meaning.
The author playfully suggests that the Little Prince is written to and for children since only they understand what’s truly important. It is true that notions that are pure and simple are easily dismissed and discarded out of deference for the complex and more sophisticated.
I am perhaps only now coming to appreciate the purity of the most precious gifts that my children seem to already innately understand.
Ironically, when I first discovered my love for the Little Prince I was so eager to share it with my children. Although they wanted to love it, and pretended that they did, I knew that it was me they loved, and not my beloved book.
But perhaps by connecting their love for me with my love for my book, we will have together created a thing of great and lasting consequence…
“In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night…. You- only you- will have stars that can laugh…”