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There are books that one has for twenty years without reading them, that one always keeps at hand, that one takes from city to city, from country to country, carefully packed, even when there is very little room, and perhaps one leafs through them when removing them from a trunk; yet one carefully refrains from reading even a complete sentence.

Then, after twenty years, there comes a moment when suddenly, as though under a very high compulsion, one cannot help taking in such a book from beginning to end, at one sitting: It is like a revelation. Now one knows why one made such a fuss about it. It had to be with one for a time; it had to travel; it had to occupy space; it had to be a burden; and now it has reached the goal of its voyage, now it reveals itself, now it illuminates the twenty bygone years it mutely lived with one. It could not say so much if it had not been there mutely the whole time, and what idiot would dare to assert that the same things had always been in it.

Elias Canetti, The Human Province (1943)

I guess the saying “Every dog has its day” can also be applied to books – every book has its day. Some books have always been there, around our periphery and in our lives, but somehow we just never felt inclined to pick them up to read them for what they’re worth, before the right moment came along. It’s as if the book has to be ‘seasoned’ over time in order for us to be able to properly devour and digest it when the time is right. Or when we are ready for it.

Although I have always loved books since young, I cannot say that I was as serious a reader as I wished I was, and neither had I read as many books as I wished I had. Especially the classics. I hardly read any, shocking Philistine that I was. It is only in recent years that I have begun to feel drawn anew and afresh towards the classics. One clear example was Jane Eyre, which I read an abridged version of during my lower secondary school years for an English class. I remember disliking the story and thinking it dull and boring and my impression of it has always been less than favourable ever since. Then one day, almost two decades later, I happened to flip open a copy of Jane Eyre in a bookshop, and surprisingly found myself very much drawn towards the writing and tone of the book, even from page one itself! This new copy is now sitting on my shelves and I can’t wait to read it. What can I say – ‘I was blind then, but now I see’. 🙂

A book, like a person, has its fortunes with one; is lucky or unlucky in the precise moment of its falling in our way, and often by some happy accident counts with us for something more than its independent value.

Walter Pater, Marius the Epicurean (1885)

Books remain unchanged, it’s us the readers who change and mature with time and experience, therefore rendering new meaning and perspectives at each point of reading.

For all books are divisible into two classes: the books of the hour, and the books of all time. Mark this distinction – it is not one of quality only. It is not merely the bad book that does not last, and the good one that does. It is a distinction of species. There are good books for the hour, and good ones for all time; bad books for the hour, and bad ones for all time.

John Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies (1864)

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4 thoughts on “Friday Feature : On Reading The Right Book At The Right Time

  1. Though I’ve never thought about this before, I see that it is so true! I have shelves of books TBR, some of which I’ve had for years and can’t bear to part with…yet can’t quite seem to pick up and read. Now I see that we are just waiting for the right time to come.

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    1. I think that’s what I tend to tell myself sometimes, when trying to justify the buying of “too many” books (especially during book sales). Even though I know I don’t really “need” them at the time of buying and will probably not be reading them anytime soon, yet I know that at the right time somewhere down the road, I would want to.

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  2. I don’t have a HUGE pile of books that are just waiting to be read, but I do understand the “feeling” of waiting for the right time.

    It’s like, I pick it up, sift through, then decide that I’m not going to read it yet. I know, for some odd reason I cannot fathom, that I will love the book if and when I read it. But just not now.

    Sometimes I know why – too thick a book for so little free time, or too many dystopian books at one go – but other times it’s just a little tinkling feeling inside that tells me to put the book back onto the shelves, and pick another.

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    1. A book in due season does make a world of difference to the reader, I guess. The points at which we cross paths with our books are almost as significant as (and not very unlike) meeting the right people at different times of our lives.
      Sometimes I like to prolong the ‘pleasure of anticipation’ of a book that I know (or imagine) I would love, and therefore would choose to wait it out for as long as possible.
      And conversely, sometimes I just feel the need for instant gratification and decide to wait no more. This was the case with the last book I just finished (Days Of Grace), which just shot right up from the queue of TBRs and was one of the rare few instances where I start reading immediately upon acquiring. 🙂

      “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” Proverbs 25:11

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