09 November 2012

The very first time

Readings children's & YA book specialist, Emily Gale has written an interesting post about the rise of New Adult as a genre - and the reasons they have devoted a new shelf to it in the store.

Herewith their New Adult titles. We are much enamoured of their selection, and would be EXTREMELY interested to hear what other novels you would select to be on your New Adult shelf.

And it set me to thinking about what I was reading as a 19-year-old and as a 20-something. It was such a wonderful time for discovery - of the world, of new friends, of books, of possibility... I read so many, many books. Explored so much of the world through them, discovered so much of myself in their pages. I filled up my bookshelves (made of bricks and planks of wood) with books that I read for the very first time.

It was during these years that I first read Kate Grenville's Lilian's Story, an experience that stayed with me.

And I read The Life and Crimes of Harry Lavender by Marele Day, which changed my life, but that is a story for another day, except to say it led me to read every book of crime fiction by women that I could find.* And every book of contemporary Australian fiction by women that I could lay my hands on.**

And I read The Women's Room, The Golden Notebook, The Bone People, The Kitchen God's Wife, The Children's Bach, A Room of One's Own and The Princess Bride - all for the very first time. And I read - all the way to the end for the very first time - Pride & Prejudice, and finally found the joy in it after such long resentful struggles with it in secondary school. And I read the Narnia books for the very first time, and To Kill A Mockingbird for the very first time, and The Catcher in the Rye for the only time. And I read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas while I posed (for hours) for this photo taken by an RMIT photography student.

And I wilfully refused to read Hemingway and Bukowski and Kerouac (despite, or perhaps because of, insistent recommendations from my 20-something male friends).***

And, for the very first time, I read John Irving.

I started with The World According to Garp. I was living in Sydney at the time, on my very first great adventure, far far far away from my family and the small farm I'd grown up on, far far from the regional boarding school I'd attended for five years, and far even from the Melbourne Uni residential college where I had lived for a year, surrounded by school friends who had cushioned the brand new experience of university.

I had moved to Sydney on a whim - a decision made at 2 am at my older brother's 21st party: 'Yes,' I said that night 'Yes, I will move to Sydney.' Two weeks later, I hoisted my suitcase onto the luggage rack of the Daylight Express and settled in for the 12-hour train trip to the Emerald City.

In Sydney I felt...untethered...in a good way. I felt very grown up - I had secured my first full-time job, my first lease, my first Vegemite glass collection - for the drinking of cask wine - my first true taste of freedom, from family, from teachers, from homework, from exams, from authority figures, and from everyone who thought they already knew who I was.

The long-distance phonecalls to my best friend in Melbourne were prohibitively expensive, so they were infrequent, and treasured. I would sit on the floor of the hallway, housemates stepping over the long curly cord of the phone on the opposite wall, and my friend and I would exchange as much information as possible as quickly as we could. 'Read John Irving,' she urged. 'Read him.'

So I read The World According to Garp, which I gobbled up - after wading painfully though the first few chapters - and then wept and wept and wept at the end. Which was an epilogue. Who knew an epilogue could actually be so effective? In tears, I rang my friend and we consoled each other about Garp and his family and Ellen James and the Undertoad and EVERYTHING that happened. And then I read The Hotel New Hampshire - and begged Lilly to keep passing the open windows - and I read The Cider House Rules - and sat on the pier with Homer Wells, waiting and seeing, waiting and seeing - and I read A Prayer for Owen Meany - and met, for the very first time, weird little Owen who, despite his CAPITAL LETTERS DIALOGUE, completely won over my heart and mind.

I have read other Irvings in the years since, but these are the four that I read and re-read in my twenties. Like the crime fiction, and the contemporary Australian fiction, and the feminist fiction, something in them spoke to me - and when I read them, I had that peculiar feeling you have when you read something that feels like 'home'.

There is now a generation of readers who will fondly remember reading Harry Potter and Twilight and The Hunger Games as 20-somethings. I wonder what other books they will remember. I wonder what other books will linger, will evoke that thrill of discovery, of finding the books that speak as if directly only to them. I wonder what other books they will recall reading for the very first time.

* I found the books, not the women.
** Similarly, I layed my hands on the books, not the women.
*** Of these, I have still only read Hemingway, and that was under duress - thanks, Chaps.


A latte beckons said...

I think they were the years when I read all my Simone de Beauvoir and took to wandering about in a turban. Also Anais Nin (oh dear). And Henry Miller (OH DEAR!) Also I read The Mists of Avalon a few dozen times. Oh, and lots about Carl Jung! I remember thinking The White Hotel was a work of genius. Now -- not so much.

The Alien Onions said...

Kate - Do you have any photos of your Simone de Beauvoir turban phase? Inquiring minds wish to know.

For me it was all Allende and Garcia Marquez and the poetry of Leonard Cohen and Anne Rice. EPIC FEELS! I can't abide G-M any more.


miss elise said...

I spent ONE ENTIRE YEAR reading naught but Anne Rice! And then there was Margaret Atwood. She is my feeling of home, and always will be, most especially The Edible Woman, Cat's Eye and The Robber Bride. And there was The Bone People, yes yes yes. To this day I claim it as the best book I've ever read. And there was The Outsider by Albert Camus. Which blew my brain out the back of my head. And the Bell Jar, and JEANETTE WINTERSON, and Bliss by Peter Carey, and Cloud Street... And The Women's Room and The Master and Margarita, which I especially prided as it was my mum's copy from the 60s given to her by the family she used to babysit for and I'd just discovered her old records and realised that the woman was an absurdist-appreciating hippy and felt so inordinately proud of this fact... AHHHHH!!