I wanted to look at how my view of some of my favorite books from childhood have changed. But I realized this is hard for a lot of books I read when I was little.
My number one favorite book of all time until I was about 12 and really got into Jane Austen was Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I knew everything about the Alcott’s and I read all of LMA’s books. But Little Women was always my favorite. I used to read it once a year, sometimes more, from age 7-12. And I don’t think I’ve read it sense. This isn’t because I don’t like re-reading books. I reread A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Emma each about once every six months. I am so afraid to go back and read Little Women because I am afraid that I’ll realize that the characters I love and based my life around for so long will come off as trite and dull. Also I know that Little Women doesn’t have anything more to offer. I needed Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy when I was a little bookworm girl with few friends, none who cared about books as much as I did. And now I need the March sisters to stay where they are in my mind, as long lost friends I can remember fondly without worries of disappointment in the future.
Other favorite of childhood that I have reread is the Anne of Green Gables series. I had a little bit of the problem with disillusionment as I reread Anne’s story, when I realized how annoying Anne Shirley could be. But some how Lucy Maud Montgomery’s stories seem more organic than Little Women in my mind. Realizing that Anne is annoying and pretentious when she first comes to Avonlea to me just means that I am growing up, and can see Marilla’s logic. Also Anne grows up more without leaving herself behind. Jo March seems stuck in her ways, and has to find a world to accept them. So the one that seemed appealing to a headstrong eight-year old is a lot less appealing, and a lot less realistic to a young woman who has seen how adapting can help all parties.
Then there is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I cannot explain how much I love this book. My mom bought it for me when I was young, voraciously reading anything. But I could not get through this book. I’m pretty sure I read the first chapter twenty times. Then one day, when I was about ten, I read the whole thing is about a day. This book is the most realistic view of growing up I’ve ever read. Each time I read it, I love it more and more. Francie Nolan, our heroine, doesn’t have a singular “a-ha” moment realizing that all is wrong with her life before and now she can fix it and get the guy. She simply grows up in inches at a time, and even regresses at some points. Whether is it when she realizes her mother loves her brother more than she, or when World War I is declared and she is determined to remember everything about the moment she heard the news. The book is not only a story about Francie but the world around her, including her parent’s story, a story that Francie may not explicitly know all the details of, but as the book describes Franice “Part of her life was made from the tree growing rankly in the yard. She was the bitter quarrels she had with her brother whom she loved dearly. She was Katie’s secret, despairing weeping. She was the shame of her father staggering home drunk. She was all of these things and of something more.” The book is the something more of Francie’s story, that she doesn’t even know how it will end. I love that Francie doesn’t end up with a guaranteed husband, just the hint of it, and we don’t even get assurance that the marriage, if it happens, will work out. We just know that Francie is strong and will be okay.