Sherry: Lori thanks so much for joining us today. I meet Lori at Left Coast Crime last March. We were co-panelist on Deadly New Voices. Her book The Black Hour debuted last week to great reviews.
Lori: Let me get this part out of the way: I hated Anne of Green Gables.
Oh, and A Wrinkle in Time.
Are you still here? What if I say that I only got up to the front door of Mr. Rochester’s house in Jane Eyre before I fell asleep, dropped the book, and never picked it up again.
Don’t get me wrong. I love kid books. I side with #teamYA in the recent kerfuffle over whether adults should be ashamed to read books written for young people. (Ashamed? Really?)
The problem with these books is that I didn’t try to read any of them until far into my adulthood—and it was too late. I’ve found that if I didn’t come to love a book at the proper time of my life, it might not be possible to go back and right the wrong.
There’s no time limit on these books. They’re classics. But they are classics meant for girls of a certain age, a certain age I haven’t been in a long (long) time.
By the time I read Anne of Green Gables, Anne struck me as a hyperactive goody-goody. I didn’t even understand A Wrinkle in Time. It was about…time? It just ended abruptly, I noticed. Leaving room for the sequels, thought my jaded, adult self. As for Jane Eyre: Oh, Jane. He has a crazy wife in the attic. Girlfriend, you can do better.
On the other hand, books that I read and loved as a kid still hold sway over me. I’ve re-read some of them as an adult and you know what? They’re just as awesome as they always were. These are books like A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh stories, on which my childhood was built and in which as an adult I found some sage writing advice. Or E.L. Konigsberg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Sure, the kids running away from home gave me more pause than it once did, but I still rooted for them to get away with it. Scott O’Dell’s The Island of the Blue Dolphin—check, except now I kind of want a summer house on that cove instead of being rescued from it. Alice in Wonderland? This book was probably never for children anyway, but that’s beside the point—I read it as a kid, loved it, and have read it as an adult. It holds up.
Except it’s not the book holding up to some standard. It’s the reader. It’s us. It’s me. I’m the one who comes to the pages different than I was last time. I’m the variable that changes over time. The words on the page say what they’ve said my entire life and either they resonate with me or they don’t. The difference is me—did I read this book long ago and leave a piece of myself in the text? For the books I never read when I was supposed to, the question is different. Can I find something in the text to latch onto now?
Now that I’m a writer with deadlines, I get less reading done. Combine that with the vast number of great mysteries I encounter at every conference I attend, where I’m meeting great new authors I want to support, and we have a problem of supply and demand. Supply, supply, and demand. I’ll never read everything I want to. (Thanks a lot, mortality.) I have to be more selective with my reading time.
More than that—I hope I have left something of myself on the pages I’ve written for someone else to find at the exact right time. And, someday, they can tear my Winnie-the-Pooh out of my cold, dead hands. I’m not ashamed to say it.
Readers: Did you read any books that just weren’t “in the moment”?
Lori Rader-Day is the author of the mystery The Black Hour (Seventh Street Books, 2014). Born and raised in central Indiana, she now lives in Chicago with her husband and dog. Her fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Good Housekeeping, Time Out Chicago, and others. Visit her at LoriRaderDay.com.