Are there books you have outgrown?

Posted September 9, 2018 by Lory in discussions / 38 Comments

This question follows on from last month’s about rereading. As I grow older and reread some of my former favorites, I find that some of them have lost their luster. What formerly seemed so powerful and full of insight now shows its limitations. I might find it poorly written, or full of holes and inconsistencies I never noticed before, or simply uninspiring.

Is this due to age, or experience, or changing tastes? In what does the magic reside, and why does it sometimes flee?

I would hesitate to say it’s because I’ve become so much more wise and mature myself, and that anyone who adores these books must be on a lower level of literary appreciation. It’s more that some alchemical process has changed … some element has shifted in me and no longer wakens the corresponding reaction in the book.

If that reaction still occurs for other readers — fantastic! It was real for me the first time, and I’m glad it’s real for you.

But it leaves me a little sad, and longing for that wonderful, transcendent experience I once had. Fortunately, there are still so many books to discover and fall in love with, all over again. I hope I will never outgrow that.

Are there books you seem to have left behind, as you have changed and grown through life? Can you say what makes you feel that way?

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38 responses to “Are there books you have outgrown?

  1. Lizzie Ross

    Yep, it’s happened to me. Two examples:
    1) CS Lewis’s That Hideous Strength series. I fell in love with this when I was in my teens, and probably bored friends & family with my unceasing devotion. A few years ago I tried reading it again and couldn’t do it. I think what had happened for me was reading other Fantasy/SciFi authors, whose worlds were so much more interesting. I may give Lewis another chance, but I make no promises.
    2) This one breaks my reader’s heart: I may have lost my taste for Anne Shirley. I know exactly the cause: she’s too good and sweet and twee. Sure, she gets into scrapes, and occasionally gets jealous. But in all the Anne of Green Gables books, there’s only one realistic moment of frailty — Towards the end of Anne of Ingleside, a middle-aged Anne fears that Gilbert no longer loves her. She worries that she has become boring. Thank you, LM Montgomery, for that humanizing scene of despair.
    On a related note, I’ve found books that I’ve waited too long to read, of which Catcher in the Rye and The Outsiders are two. I was in my 50s when I first read them, and although I could understand their appeal, I couldn’t feel it. Ah well. As you say, no time to mourn, for there are so many other great books out there.

    • I LOVED The Outsiders as a teen but I’m afraid to reread it now!

      I have reread the Anne books, and find that Anne gets substantially more boring partway through the first book. When she’s homely and strange she’s so much more interesting than when she becomes attractive and successful.

      CS Lewis is a major example of an author whose ideas have not worn well for me. I still appreciate some of his images, but his moral universe seems a bit cramped to me now.

  2. This is an intriguing post and a very good set of questions. I tend to be careful what I read as reading time is precious so I have only gone back to books from my past that I think had a lot of value. With that, certain authors books , such as Authur C. Clark, show shortcomings now that I read them at an older age. However, I still see a lot of positive things in these books, despite thier flaws.

  3. Certain children’s authors have lost their appeal for me, definitely. The most obvious is Enid Blyton, whom I read avidly as a kid but found I couldn’t finish the third in her Famous Five series. I blanched at The Magic Faraway Tree when I tried that for the first time recently — so unutterably twee.

    Unlike Lizzie above, I was never enamoured by C S Lewis’s Perelandra trilogy, though I once dutifully trudged through them, preachiness and all, many years ago. I might give That Hideous Strength a second go, but only for its Arthurian themes.

    Oh, and the Tarzan series — which I consumed almost in their entirety as a teenager — no, I’m not sure I could bear their cliché-ridden pages again. Except maybe The Return of Tarzan, which I’d never read but have in a new edition.

    • It would be interesting to see what you do find in Tarzan if you read The Return again. They definitely have been hugely popular, and there must be some reason.

  4. I don’t enjoy Victor Hugo novels now the way I did when I first read them. I think those are some of the books you love if you discover them when young but maybe not so much when you’re older (as Lizzie says, earlier in this comment thread).
    Jo Walton has popularized this concept, at least for SF fans, and I like the way she points out that “suck fairies travel in battalions.” https://www.tor.com/2010/09/28/the-suck-fairy/

  5. Kia

    Not wanting to start an argument or even a discussion, my answer would be The Bible and almost any Christian Apologetics books you could think of. CS Lewis, Norman Geisler included.

  6. What a good question. I think its more a question for me about authors I have fallen out of love with rather than specific books. So for example I used to love Ian McEwan but hated two of his more recent works. Same with William Boyd.

  7. I’m still pretty fond of Lewis’ Space Trilogy; it’s so *weird.* And I still really enjoy reading L M Montogmery’s stories, sentimental and sweet though they may be. But I hardly ever read Madeleine L’Engle any more; I spent my teen years collecting every single one of her books and read them many times, but most of them have not aged well at all. A Wrinkle in Time is still great, of course, but in most of the other stories I notice that L’Engle’s teen girls/characters are impossibly intellectual, the families improbably brilliant….I just don’t get what I used to get out of them at all.

  8. Like Chris, a re-reading of some of the Faraway Tree books by Enid Blyton a couple of years ago to my daughter proved a disappointment. I do remember getting fed up with EB as a child after being addicted to many of her books, and as an adult I see the clunkiness of plot, thin-ness of character and meagreness of prose – though she had a good eye for what children enjoy and the Faraway Tree books are a great concept. Now I am afraid to revisit her other books.

    Generally, books I’ve reread tend to confirm my earlier impressions and enrich and add to them. The slight exception to this is Crime & Punishment. I first read this when I was eighteen and thought Raskolnikov a brooding and haunted hero. I reread it when I was nearly forty and was astonished at what a selfish brat he was. Still a great book though!

    • An inexperienced reader can get hooked on the mere thrill of following the thread of narrative, I suppose. It becomes a stepping stone to better things, hopefully.

      And I think one detects selfish brattiness better as one gets beyond the teenage years … certain heroes and heroines do tend to change when seen in the light of maturity.

      • You’ve captured it exactly, Lory: “the thrill of following the thread of a narrative” is exactly what appealed to me as a young reader as I impatiently skipped what I saw as ‘digressions’ — you know, conversations, descriptions, ruminations, subplots, in fact almost everything that my more mature self now relishes! 🙂

  9. Great questions Lory! I have really enjoyed reading the comments here. No doubt every reader will have this realization at some point.

    I rarely re-read (another great discussion you led) but I did recently re-read Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder and happily really love it still.

    But I do find myself growing out of certain authors as booker talk mentions above. Elizabeth George is one. I used to love her Inspector Lynley mysteries but the last three were disappointing to me. I think it is a combination of a long running series that has gone on too long coupled with my waning interest in the murder mystery genre.

  10. Kat

    Lory, I loved Jane Langton’s books, The Diamond in the Window and The Swing in the Summerhouse, and they’re really very good, but I cannot read them as an adult. I still like her cozy mystery series, though.

    • I read Diamond in the Window to my son a few years ago and found it not as enchanting as I remembered. Same with Edward Eager’s books. Lots of writers in the vein of E. Nesbit, few who really measure up.

  11. I haven’t found any books like that yet, but I’ve only very recently starting rereading books. I can imagine that would be the case with some books though, and maybe it’s just that you have such fond memories of the book, that it has become even better in your memory, and the actual book can’t live up to that? Or maybe it is just a case of having outgrown the book, and being a different person than the last time you read it. It’s interesting to think about, and I’ll have to see if this happens with other books when I start to reread them (I’m part way through the Harry Potter books, and so far they’ve been as good as I remembered!).
    Great post! 🙂

  12. Interesting question! The books I reread today are books that I’ve been enjoyably rereading for years, such as The Hobbit and Inkheart, both of which I first read when I was around 12 years old. I haven’t left a book behind only to return to it many years later, so I haven’t had experience you describe here. Although, one might say I have outgrown the childhood books that I don’t choose to reread…

    • There is that. Having kids brings some of them back around — reading many of my old childhood favorites aloud has been an illuminating experience. The Westing Game was the latest – my introduction to the concept of the stock market.

  13. It always breaks my heart when this happens, but I’d rather know than not know that it wasn’t true love between me and the book! My sister just told that rereading A Swiftly Tilting Planet has made her feel 10,000% uncomfortable with the blue-eyed saviors in every generation of indigenous people, and hey, that is TOTALLY TRUE, and will probably ruin that book for me too. But I take comfort in knowing that my changing responses mean I’ve grown.

    Also, I overwhelmingly keep on loving books in reread after reread. So rereading continues to be worth it for me.

    • The blue-eyed saviors were once taken totally for granted! That’s weird, but it’s good to know at least some waking up has happened. We’ve grown, and our society has grown too.

  14. Deb

    This is a great discussion topic and I’ve enjoyed reading all the comments. There are certainly children’s books that haven’t aged well for me over the years, and some I’ve read as an adult when I should have read them as children. I still love my beloved Oz books though, maybe because I never saw them as perfect books to begin with.

    As I’ve gotten older I’ve become less enamored of series books. I keep starting them but mostly, there isn’t enough there for me to want to keep going. And I’ll admit that historical romances used to be a guilty pleasure for me – but every time I try one now, they leave me bored, or uncomfortable. Many of them romanticize really controlling men. Or, maybe what seemed romantic in my 20s just doesn’t feel that way now.

    Some favorites that get better over time are Thomas Hardy, who I first read in high school. The Return of the Native is one of the few books I keep rereading. Same with The Bell Jar.

    • As an adult I can see how Baum got bored with Oz, and that seriously marred the later books in particular. But they still hold magic for me as well.

      I agree about series. I used to be a completist, but no more.

  15. Some books I can reread forever, and never be disappointed. Charlotte’s Web comes to mind, as do the Narnia Chronicles. In fact, as an adult, I find myself getting more out of them than I did as a child. But, a great disappointment to me was rereading The Thorn Birds. I loved it. Once. (What an interesting post!)

    • It’s so good to have those books we can rely on to always be there for us. And then, there are the ones that were just for a fleeting moment of time.

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