Why is it that whenever I close the cover for the last time on a really good book I feel this sense of loss? Is it because I have become so immersed in the world created by the book’s author, that I feel evicted from that world? Or is it just difficult saying goodbye?
I remember a line in Jack Finney’s Time and Again in which the character expressed a sentiment that has always stayed with me at the end of an enchanting book: if it were possible to read it again with the same excitement of discovery as one has on the first reading, I would be so glad! I really become so enraptured by works of fiction that I sometime shed tears after the joy abates.
I wailed at the end of Gone With the Wind. Of course, I had the flu, was thirteen, and I just couldn’t deal with Rhett’s departure, stupid Scarlett.
At the end of A Tale of Two Cities I completely fell apart when Sydney Carton was executed! I was fourteen and highly impressionable. The guillotine was a frightening end for such a noble man. I learned that sometimes doing the right thing can get your head chopped off.
Completing Emil Zola’s L’Assommoir, and experiencing the death from starvation of laundress Gervaise (Nana’s and Eteinne’s Mother in the Les Rougon-Macquart series), I was devastated that all hope had been dashed for my heroine who had struggled against all odds and against drunken, good-for-nothing husbands! I was thirty-something and experienced several of her problems. I could relate, even if I was sufficiently fed.
East of Eden? So much more than the Cain and Abel story focused on in the James Dean movie. And speaking of Steinbeck, I have read Of Mice and Men three times, seen the Broadway play and the movie versions. I dissolve in a puddle every time. I learned from that book that with love there is responsibility, and devotion demands that you have to shoot your own dog (figuratively) or you will always regret having a stranger do it for you.
Raintree County completely undid my strings. (Don’t bother watching the terrible movie. It’s an insult to the book.) It was after some time that I understood that the hero, Johnny Shawnessy, of the tale by Ross Lockridge, Jr. was not really the protagonist, not really. It was the women who circled his life and pulled him like a tide who really propelled the story. I am still in awe of that book and carry its beauty and wisdom with me twenty years after first reading it.
I don’t want them—my new-found friends—to leave me. But, they always send me on my way to make new friends “between the covers”. Other covers, other books, and other people; characters who will enchant me once again when I become happily entrenched in new lives. (Makes me sound like a voyeur, because they don’t hear or see me. I am only peeking into their lives and times.)
Some books I revisit; some are too tender to return to. Some, I have found, disappoint on second reading. I admit that I’ve grown more discerning and my tastes have evolved. So I rarely re-read. But the great books, the ones that have influenced me the most, are the ones that never cease to bring me joy upon my return. Like visiting old and trusted friends: they may age, sometimes well, sometimes they creak. Sometimes you can’t help but see flaws in their natures that you didn’t notice the first time you met them. But you are older and wiser now, too, and are seeing them with more mature eyes. Like family, like lifelong friends’ you see their faults but you still love those people.
Now it’s time to move on. Bring on the next book. It’s time to meet new friends.
Until next time,