Truth is, I think it’s a little of both, although I am reluctant to use the word “bitter” with respect to myself. I have been called the eternal optimist on numerous occasions, and being bitter just doesn’t sit right with my overly hopeful nature. (I’m one of those people you’ll catch saying, “Don’t worry, everything always works out,” as if it’s my personal mantra.) However… bittersweet? Perhaps that’s more of a pill I can swallow. After all, there is a “sweet” tacked onto the end, right? And when it comes to revisiting our past, it isn’t always sweet the second time around, as I've recently discovered.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot while re-reading Stephen King’s book “It”. I read it in my twenties and I LOVED it. I absolutely ADORED it… one of those books I was unable to put down. When I found out a new movie was coming out, I decided to read the book again to fully appreciate what I was going to see on the big screen. After all, when you’re a book lover, reading the book first allows you to pick up on every nuance of the film (even though many of those nuances are left out or completely changed). I was so excited to begin my journey with “It”! Unfortunately for me, the excitement was short lived. After the first few chapters, I found myself continually checking my kindle for percentage progress. I kept thinking, “How can I ONLY be that far along? Am I ever going to make it to 50%?” Okay, the book is about 1400 pages long, but come on! I read a 400 page book on the train to and from Venice over the summer! Could it be that clowns are universally silly and never, EVER scary to me, and thus a poor choice for a villain? No, because I felt the same way in my twenties. I’ve always LOVED clowns. I was always the girl at the circus waiting with baited breath to see how many clowns could jam themselves into that tiny Volkswagen. As I continue to trudge my way through the book, I keep saying to myself, “I love you, Stephen, but can you get to the point already??” (He and Tolkien should’ve been drinking buddies.)
As I talked to another bibliophile last night, she shared her insights upon revisiting the Anne of Green Gables series. These books were beloved to her as a child and many fond memories are attached to them. And although my friend isn’t as frustrated as I am, she finds that the latter books in the series—which like me, she is only reading for the second time—are not the same experience as she remembered. We’re both wistful about recognizing that as we change and the world around us changes, our views of how we perceive the things we read can change too. And in my case, it makes me a little sad. And it makes me wonder if it’s a mistake to revisit the books of our past.
Suddenly, I remember Jane Austen. Oh, Jane Austen. The woman who is discussed in my very first play “on the rocks”, and is never far from my heart. She is one of the keenest observers of human behavior and relationships I know, and her wit and wisdom are still relevant to today’s world. I have read “Pride and Prejudice” more than once (okay I’ve read it a lot) and each time, I find myself gasping in horror at the same passages as if I’m reading it for the first time. Even more thrilling is when I find myself discovering something new that I never noticed before. Some books, like a good wine, improve with age. The saying “It just never gets old” definitely applies here. And it’s not just books. Places can improve with age as well. Take Ithaca. I have been going there since I’m 21 and the thrill never wears off. The sights (i.e. waterfalls and gorges aka “Ithaca is gorges), the sounds (amazing live music) and did I mention the wine, are absolutely divine. Although I have experienced Ithaca with different partners (friends as well as lovers) over the years, I never find myself melancholy or sad at my past experiences. I simply smile at all the wonderful memories secured to this truly magical place.
My acting teacher always says not to look at the past too closely. It’s nice to visit, but you don’t want to stay there too long. Case in point with Stephen King’s “It”. Nostalgia is great, but I don’t want to get trapped there. I want to make sure the books, places and anything else I’m revisiting is worth the effort. If I’m not gaining new experiences and memories, then I need to ask myself why I’m going there again in the first place! That said, I’m still planning on finishing “It” for the second time, in case anyone is wondering. Call me a dog with a bone (you won’t be the first, I assure you) but if I say I’m going to do something, then I darn well DO it. But someone please smack me upside the head if I tell you I’m still reading this book come Christmas. And make sure you remind me of the law of diminishing returns!