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)