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‘I Would Have Liked It More When I Was Younger’ (Versus Re-Reading In Adulthood)

A photograph of a copy of The Secret Garden

Is it better to be able to say “I liked this book and know I would’ve liked it even more if I’d read it as a child” rather than to re-read an old favourite later in life and find it’s lost its magic?

There is a sense of loss in the first case, that you have enjoyed it but know that you’ve missed the chance to have appreciate it in the way it was intended. You’ve lost the innocent and yes, ignorance, required to be spellbound. You know that dragons don’t exist and that there aren’t, at least to our present scientific knowledge, parallel worlds to be opened with a subtle knife.

There can be a loss when you re-read a childhood favourite. Many books do retain their magic, and even you will always remember that you did love the book more and you’ll likely remember the feeling, too.

But it’s different; it’s the whole ‘you never miss what you never had’ and whilst I don’t stand by that saying in general, I think it can be applied to books in this way. As they say in Casablanca, ‘we’ll always have Paris’. However to make up for the lesser enjoyment, the potential disappointment, the re-read later in life has it own merits, especially, I would say, if it’s a book for children in their young double digits or young teen years – that stage where you might not catch everything that’s there for the taking. And if it is a book for that/those age groups, it’s often far enough away in your past that you’ll see it in a new light, take something new away from it.

Which do you think is better? Which do you prefer – to know you missed out, or to potentially be disappointed (whilst, perhaps happy to have a new take on the book)?

There are plenty of books I’ve read that I didn’t read as a child, mostly notably for me, The Last Battle by C S Lewis (spoilers here on in for the books discussed). Now I am biased against this book due to the way it ends, however it is still of use as an example here because of the very fact that I likely wouldn’t have realised, as a child, what I did as an adult. I wouldn’t have caught on to the slight over make-up, even if I know I may have caught on to the deaths. The deaths I expect my parents would have discussed with me to the point where I was content enough with the book. Either way, my ignorance would’ve led me to enjoy it.

Then there is The Secret Garden. I loved the film as a child, and used my memories of it when creating the images in my head as an adult. I read the book for the first time a few years ago and enjoyed it immensely, but I reckon I would’ve enjoyed it even more as a child. The magic of it would’ve swept me away, and there’s only so much dreaming of such gardens as an adult unless perhaps you happen to have a vast sum of money.

As for books I read a second time, the titles that spring to mind are Northern Lights and Across The Nightingale Floor. Both were favourites at the turn of my first decade; I loved them completely. (And somehow the section about daemons – trying to avoid spoilers here – in first didn’t manage to upset me as much as it did the second time around, which I think shows how much the magical elements took my attention.)

Northern Lights I enjoyed the second time, but not nearly as much. I understood much more which, given the subjects, made it difficult to read, and there was of course the inevitable discovery that it was nearly as long a book as I’d thought. I saw much more cruelty in Mrs Coulter and Lord Asriel left me very unimpressed. The initial plan was to move straight on to book two, The Subtle Knife, which I managed to work into the start of this post, but I’ll have to plan it. (And I should, really, because The Amber Spyglass looked far too long a book at that age to consider reading.)

Lastly in this ‘rambulation’ of experiences comes Across The Nightingale Floor. An interesting one this was. I loved it the first time, it started my affair with Asian history, and I managed to leave my confusion over a boy talking of ‘satisfying his desire’ behind as I continued on. The mix of history and fantasy was great, the end battle took 45 minutes to read, and the story was unique (that last part I still believe to be true). A couple of years ago the book fell a bit flat. I liked it, but I didn’t feel the same, though I did understand what the boy meant about satisfying desires and very much appreciated the fact that Takeo was a bisexual teenager in a ’90s YA book. YA may have been rather gritty back then, but in general I don’t remember it being quite so diverse.

There are definitely benefits to the second mode of reading, the re-read of childhood favourites, as much as there are drawbacks. The drawbacks are very natural, and I’m sure if I told any of my favourite children’s authors that they weren’t as fantastical any more they’d say I was stating the obvious, that I was no longer the target. Even if there is certainly much to gain as an adult.

The benefit of having missed out as a child is that your view isn’t tainted. Different than it may have been, yes, but you’ve no previous experience to compare it too.

The interesting thing is that when I started this post I was of the opinion that missing out was better, but studying the re-read aspect has made me change my mind. I think there’s a balance. What you miss out on from missing out as a child makes you unbiased and not disappointed in your discussions, objective. What you lose in re-reading is compensated by a second view, a more informed or deeper reading, the ability to appreciate how the author wrote what they wanted to say for a younger audience.

I think, to me, both have their merits, and as it’s not something you can control unless you happen to be focused on foresight as a child, that’s just as well.

What have been your experiences so far? Do you have preference?



February 9, 2015, 1:21 pm

“Then there is The Secret Garden. I loved the film as a child, and used my memories of it when creating the images in my head as an adult.” Same! I don’t think I would have enjoyed the book as an adult, without loving the film as a child.

From past experience – I’m not much of a re-reader – I have loved re-reading childhood books as much (if not more) than when I was young. I think it is because I read, or was read, a lot of childhood classics, which are like the gifts that keeps on giving. Also, Harry Potter, which I am re-reading now and loving just as much.

I think re-reading childhood books is like stepping back to the moment you read them, and that can be half the fun.

Jenny @ Reading the End

February 9, 2015, 6:50 pm

I mostly continue to love the books I loved as a child, although in some cases I do start to see the flaws. But I have definitely read some kids’ books and thought it was a shame I didn’t read them younger. The His Dark Materials are a good example — I tore through them in middle school, never reread them until years later, and now find them preeeetty irritating to read in light of how irritating I find Pullman on the subject of religion generally. I always think it’s a shame! It would be better to have been able to let those books take root in your heart (like the Narnia books did in mine) — you gain value from them that way, and it doesn’t stop you from spotting the problems with them as you reread them in adulthood.

Literary Feline

February 10, 2015, 12:27 am

I so rarely reread books (excluding young children’s books which I read over and over and over and over and over again on a daily basis). I imagine as my daughter gets older, if she has an interest in some of my old favorites like Girl of the Limberlost and The Secret Garden, I might find myself re-reading them. It will be interesting to see what I think of them now.

I will say that my most recent experience with this, but in movies and not books, was seeing Lady and the Tramp for the first time in a very long time. It was one of my favorite Disney movies growing up. When I watched it yesterday, with an adult’s eye, it was so different. I had trouble focusing on just the story about the two dogs and their plight. Instead I caught myself wondering who would let their dogs roam so freely, and why does the animal shelter person always have to be painted in a bad light, and on and on. I had the same experience when I saw The Little Mermaid as a parent–it can really color a person’s view of movies, television, and even books.

Belle Wong

February 10, 2015, 4:05 am

I stand firmly behind the second option. I’d much rather have read the book as a child and then on rereading it as an adult, find it’s lost some of its magic. Because no matter how much of the magic is lost on the rereading, I don’t think anything can take away from what I got out of the book as a child. My favourite books made up such a huge part of my childhood, and I can’t even think about what life would have been like if I hadn’t read them!

Granted, most of my childhood favourites have stood the test of time with no problems. But even the ones that are definitely not as good as I remembered them to be still hold a note of perfection because of my memories of them. The John Bellairs books, for example, which aren’t anywhere near as scary now as they were when I first read them – and this is quite understandable, considering the number of adult horror novels I’ve read since I was a child! But they were SO deliciously scary at the time. I remember having to check the closet several times after I read The House with a Clock in Its Walls. And then there are the Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators books, which I already know without having to reread them would never captivate me the way they did when I was young. But I grew up with Jupiter Jones and the rest of the gang, and I can’t really imagine not having read them as a child.

Laurie C

February 11, 2015, 12:21 pm

I agree! I would take the second option, too, because I read a LOT as a child! I’ve never re-read my top favorite A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, because I could never like it as much as I did then, but I’ve read some other childhood favorites aloud to my own children over the years and enjoyed them almost as much from an adult perspective (e.g. Beverly Cleary’s books).


February 11, 2015, 2:32 pm

Nice post, Charlie. For a long time I continued to love books that I had read as a child, but these days I am a bit worried if I pick a book to re-read. I read ‘The Three Musketeers’ as a child (an abridged version) and it was all fun and adventure. But when I re-read it sometime back I didn’t find it that way at all – the book was a bit dark in places, D’Artagnan wasn’t necessarily that nice hero that I made him out to be, and I liked Milady in some ways. I found that book more complex that I had found it when I was younger. It was no longer one of my favourite books, but on the other hand, I admired Dumas for taking risks in his story (at some point he dedicates around a hundred straight pages to Milady who is supposedly the villain of the story without any reference to the three musketeers and D’Artagnan).

There are books I wished I had read when I was younger – for example ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’, ‘The Hobbit’, ‘Charlotte’s Webb’, ‘A Wrinkle in Time’, all of which I read only in recent years. But I am glad that I did read them – they were enjoyable even now, though I was no longer a child.


March 3, 2015, 4:10 pm

Alice: The film was (and is still) just so magical! Having not read many classics I like that thought. I suppose quality does come into it quite a bit. You have a good memory :D

Jenny: Yes to flaws. The good thing they are most likely something to smile at. Yes, when you’re young you don’t really think about Pullman’s thoughts (I know I didn’t know anything about his beliefs until the Jesus book), and things like that, no matter what the beliefs are, can change a reading.

Literary Feline: You must have quite a few memorised by now ;) I’ll be interesting being about to share them and compare your daughter’s thoughts with your childhood ones, too. I guess the animal shelter person in a bad light is the result of their being so many animal-centric stories trying to include human values. I think that of children’s movies, too, though at least in Disney’s case there is always something for adults. I think I enjoy them more nowadays then I did when younger. There is always that upshot with Disney.

Belle: That’s a very good point. Whatever magic you found as a child can be said to be the ‘correct’ magic as it was written for children. I’ve noticed with scary books that you can appreciate them in a new way, differently to the way you might others. You see past it, but you can appreciate the way the stories were told, how they might have been limited and so forth, if that makes sense. Appreciate the thought behind it, I suppose.

Laurie: Yes, sometimes you really don’t want to re-read them because you know it’d change. It depends on what it is and your gut feeling’s usually right. I seem to remember Cleary – I’ll have to look her up for a blast from the past.

Vishy: Thanks :) Wow, that’s quite a book to have read, abridged or not. I suppose the darkness was removed, so in a way you read a different story. I think you could view them as two books in this case as you’re likely to appreciate the full version, but the childhood one is special to you. I think that’s important: if you haven’t read them as a child, it’s good to do so once older even if you know you’ll have ‘lost’ something.



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