I think there comes a time in every readers life when we are burned out on books. It is rare and traumatic but it does happen. Perhaps, like me, you’ve just finished an MFA degree and have spent the past few years reading at least ten books a month (plus stuff for research) and you’re finding that you cannot just retain anything anymore.
During the last semester, I turned to L.M. Montgomery and, somehow, by reading Jane of Lantern Hill, I was able to get myself back into this. When I finished in January, I came upon the same issue, or I just wanted to read something that I could safely fall into. As I was writing a paper on Montgomery, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books were there waiting for me. I read On the Banks of Plum Creek, By the Shores of Silver Lake and The Long Winter. And by the end of this, I was ready.
Around this time, one of my dear friends (and fellow Dystropian) from VCFA, Shayda Baskshi, had posted on Facebook that she was re-reading Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind. In conversation with her, she agreed to do this guest post for me on how re-reading Harry Potter, and Gone With the Wind helped her. I hope that you will enjoy this as much as I do.
I was eleven when I started reading Harry Potter, the same age as Harry when he begins his adventures. When Deathly Hallows came out, I was nineteen—a fledgling, a young woman, a half-child quivering on the edge of adulthood. I was afraid. But I was strong because of Harry—he’d come of age, and I had, too.
Now, in my mid-twenties, I’ve been feeling incredibly nostalgic these past few months. I think it stems from the dichotomy of feelings I’ve had about getting my master’s; it’s wonderful, but also devastatingly sad.
It’s bittersweet. That’s the word.
When I was in undergrad, I would go through phases where the only thing keeping me sane was my pile of Harry Potter books. For fear of wasting time reading something that might not be good, I would simply reread books from the series over and over again until I felt myself again. A true tonic for the nerves.
It was a surreal experience rereading Sorcerer’s Stone as a twenty-something; it was almost like reading an old diary. Revisiting Rowling was like that, except without the awkward adolescent thing. Her books are saturated with emotion that I’VE projected onto them, which is both a beautiful and slightly sad thing; I wish I could rekindle that initial wonder I had the first time I read the series, but I also love the…well, for lack of a better word, the relationship I have with these books.
In the forward to the 75th anniversary edition of Margaret Mitchell’s brilliant Gone With the Wind (another one of my absolute favorites), author Pat Conroy tells of the effect that the novel and the movie had on his mother:
I would wonder if anyone else in the theater could see what was perfectly obvious to me—that this movie belonged to my mother; that it was the site of her own invention of herself, the place where she came to revive her own deepest dream of her lost girlhood. The movie version of Gone With the Wind, like the book, was a house of worship my mother retired to so she could experience again the spiritual refreshment of art.
Conroy puts it beautifully. Our favorite books are our retreats, our reprieves from the blustering, sometimes gorgeous, sometimes ugly chaos of the world around us. They refresh, revive, and invigorate us. They belong to us, and we belong to them.
As Conroy goes on to say:
There has never been a reader or a writer who could figure out why this happens only to very few books. It involves all the eerie mysteries of enchantment itself, the strange untouchable wizardry that occurs when a story, in all its fragile elegance, speaks to the times in a clear, original voice and answers some strange hungers and demands of the Zeitgeist.
While Conroy is referring to the “Zeitgeist” of the Civil War era, his words are just as pertinent to the personal Zeitgeists that define periods of our own lives, and remain relevant to us forever.
And books like that are pure wizardry.
Shayda Bakhshi is a compulsive reader, writer, and graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in Texas with hundreds of books and a sassy dog named Giada.