How do you feel when you pick up a much-loved book and can’t finish it?
Years ago, I read all of Virginia Woolf’s fiction and, along with James Joyce, she probably influenced how I see novels and styles and writing techniques more than any other author.
I looked forward to it and it started fine, just as I remembered, rather like a conversation with an old friend one hasn’t seen for years that also starts out fine. But then, I began to have trouble staying focused on the book. It wasn’t so much that I already knew the plot, it was more than everything that drew me to the novel years ago was pushing me away now.
I put Mrs. Dalloway back on the shelf. Have I slowly changed? Was this simply the wrong time of the year for reading the book? The wonderful blur of the novel and its multiple themes was, bluntly, trying my patience.
I mourn the loss of the book, not just because it’s not simply one much-loved book I’ll probably never pick up again, but partly because it makes me afraid of taking another Woolf book off the shelf and finding that it no longer resonates with me either.
In general, my reading tastes haven’t changed. Many people love one genre while they’re in college and then discard it for something different ten or fifteen years later. Mostly, I like the same kinds of books I’ve always liked. Makes me wonder if Woolf herself is haunting me with an armload of nasty little games. Naah, that can’t be it.
What about you? Have you gone back to some of your much-loved books after they’ve gathered dust on the shelf for years and looked forward to savoring them again only to find that you are having to fight to stay with the story.
There’s something sobering about this that I can quite put my finger on.