Growing up or outgrowing?

March 4, 2014

As I look at my bookshelves, I’m struck by the number of books that have been sitting there for many years, often since my student days, aging, crumbling, unopened. And yet they are books that were read and re-read, and loved, all those years ago. Now they do not call to me, and yet, despite needing to clear out and reclaim space, they have not been disposed of. I wondered what was going on…

I have a lot of Herman Hesse‘s novels; my friends and I devoured them at university. I even have a critical work on Hesse that I bought all those years ago, but haven’t read. Steppenwolf we particularly enjoyed, and the complexity of The Glass Bead Game, but it was Narziss and Goldmund that I returned to recently, and re-read (there’s a post about it in the archive); the story of two friends whose lives develop and play out in two totally different ways, narrow yet fulfilling, much wider and perhaps forever incomplete, still tugs at my heart all those years after I first loved it, when I suppose I could see my life all before me and wondered how it would play out. Well, I know now. I know I’ll never part with the book, but as I grow older, reading it is more painful: truly, there is not enough time in one lifetime to experience everything, as Goldmund discovered. Similarly, the story of Siddartha‘s search for the meaning of life speaks to my condition as I look back over time and what I have accomplished.

I still have several of Jack Kerouac‘s books. again leftovers from my student days. I can’t imagine ever re-reading them, as they will also remind me of days I cannot have back. But Kerouac was one of the writers who inspired my friends and me in our explorations of states of consciousness, freedom, and the urge to travel; it’s this last that has stayed with me the longest. I travelled a lot on my own in my younger days and loved it, and in my retirement I have rediscovered this; long may it continue.

Somerset Maugham‘s The Razor’s Edge, which I recently re-read, is another of those books about the need to travel physically and mentally in order to discover one’s true self; it spoke to me years ago, but I wonder if anyone reads it now? Similarly, Sartre‘s The Roads to Freedom trilogy showed me how one needs to create one’s life and existence and meaning, and how hard that is, even though ultimately fulfilling. I suspect I will return to it sometime soon. I only wish I could track down the ancient BBC dramatisation of it, too. Richard Brautigan was froth about sex and drugs and freedom – those hippy days – children’s books for grownup children, but good fun. They should have gone years ago, but haven’t. And D H Lawrence…? His novels were powerful, fascinating explorations of relationships between men and women, women and women, men and men, arguments for sexual freedom without constraints that spoke powerfully when one’s experience of those things was limited; now they seem positively toe-curling, and I cannot ever imagine picking any of them up, except perhaps Sons and Lovers.

This hasn’t been an exhaustive list of writers and books; what has become rather clearer as I’ve thought about them is the way that writers can have a powerful influence on one’s formative years and how one lives one’s life, in a similar way to one’s friends and acquaintances, especially when one’s life is still immature, unshaped. Friends move on and disappear from our lives: the books can stay on our shelves, loved and not forgotten, reminding us of who we were just as effectively as fading photographs.

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3 Responses to “Growing up or outgrowing?”

  1. samkbell Says:

    Ooft this is a sad post. It’s like a fast-forward for me; you make it very easy for me to see what I’ll be feeling when I retire.

    Have you read much of Sartre’s other stuff? I tend to find it a bit depressing, not because of the existentialism, but mainly because, as one of my uni tutors put it, ‘Sartre just wasn’t a very nice man’.

    And I have to admit that I didn’t find any appeal in ‘Sons and Lovers’ at all…

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    • litgaz Says:

      I wasn’t sad writing it, but have been in a reflective mood for a while… a lifetime of reading feels pretty substantial and I clearly need to work out what I’ve got from it.

      Never got on with any other Sartre; found it tiresome and tedious. I think I actually got rid of my unread copy of Nausea. Incidentally, there’s a wonderful satire/ parody of him in Boris Vian’s surrealist novel Froth on the Daydream/ L’Ecume des Jours, which I recommend highly; it’s on my to re-read list…

      Like

      • samkbell Says:

        I have to locate a copy of L’ecume des jours, I tried to buy one online a while back and they were out of stock. It sounds very exciting.

        Sartre can really be very tiresome; I quite enjoyed Les mots though. And I like his plays.

        Hmm yeah, a body of reading from a span of a lot of years must bring back an awful lot of memories and thoughts!

        Like


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