Retracing My Booksteps – Finding the Books of My Youth, and Re-reading Them as an Adult

10 May

Retracing My Booksteps: Finding the Books of My Youth, and Re-reading Them as an Adult

By Rachel Jameson

 Once upon a time, Young Adult novels were my ultimate world. Thankfully, once upon a time has not come to an end; merely it has been encompassed by many other genres, including historical fiction and romance, with YA at the center.            

Growing up, the library was a priceless resource for me. I finished every book in the children’s library early on, and moved into the young adult section a bit before I actually was a young adult. I devoured everything there, and moved on to the adult section. I don’t re-read many books, but it was the YAs that I always came back to.

As I grew up, I had the means to finally own my own books. I started buying new ones mostly, but I’m a very nostalgic person, and I wanted to own my favorite books from my childhood. Sadly, I could only remember small things – a dragon here, a color there, but nothing solid. There was one I wanted to find most of all, but other than the cover having a coral hue to it, and that there were two people and a dog on the cover, I couldn’t remember. I tried looking through different book buying sites, hoping I’d stumble across a cover I recognized.

             It wasn’t until a few summers ago, visiting my hometown, that I got lucky. I stopped in the library, and took a chance that they hadn’t completely changed everything. I spent a full day there, going through the shelves where I remembered the books had been. I found quite a few of the books this way, but I got really lucky with the library’s computer catalog. Using key words like dragon, or travel, etc., it showed me a list of books with descriptions, and covers!

So there I was, in the Children’s library, getting weird looks from the librarians as I sat for hours hunched over the little computer table, in the little child’s chair. They had little pencils and little scraps of paper. I’d write the name of the book, and the call number and then run to the corresponding sections and silently crow when I found the right book.

By the end of the day, I had quite a stack. While I hadn’t found every book, I had traced almost all of my childhood and young-adulthood “booksteps”.

I spent a couple of days searching the net, finding all the books on my stack of little papers. The hardest thing was finding the same covers I had loved years ago – almost all of the books had been re-printed with brand new covers that didn’t have any meaning to me. My finds now have their own special section in my bookshelves.

So the next step of course, was to re-read them. I had a bit of trepidation at first, because that memory you hold of a favorite thing is so strong – what if the reality doesn’t hold up? It’s a terrifying thought.

In fact, I found a great comfort in re-reading the books; I was able to sink right back into them, to that lifetime ago. Some books were perhaps not as intense as I remembered, or perhaps not as defining to me, but then I’m older, and I’ve have experienced things I hadn’t experienced the first time I read the stories. This doesn’t diminish the greatness of the story. It just lends another layer to the experience of the books. Some books, the intensity was over the course of a series, rather than in one book. By reading the subsequent books, I was able to find that deep feeling I’d had years before.

 There is something about YAs, that while so simple, they can be profound. I think with the Romance genre, which is what I write, there is the risk of the audience already knowing who’s going to end up with whom, and the limitation of not being able to go too far outside of the set genre boundaries. With the Young Adult genre, for the most part, the romance is a secondary aspect compared to the adventure, the magic, the mystery, etc. Because of this, a YA writer is able to build a relationship you might not suspect from the outset.

 Take love scenes, just for example. They tend to be far from explicit, teasing the edges of reality, showing you only what needs to be seen to feel the intense love, to feel the passion. It’s very different from what an adult often craves, and yet as an adult, reading and re-reading these scenes, I come away from them almost stunned at the power within them. YA authors often cannot tell all that you could in other mediums, and yet it’s all the stronger for it.  Relationships, whether primary or secondary, develop with small hints here and there until, like the characters, the deepness of the love hits you square on.

These great books have helped me develop into the person and the writer that I am today. I can only hope to strive for that incredible layering and depth, with such subtle wording and actions. I find that when I go to edit my stories, the best trick I can possibly use is to compare my story to a Young Adult novel, and make sure I’m keeping it simple while still layering it just right.

 I hope the tale of my bookstep journey has propelled you to do the same. If you’re actually a young adult, not just in your mind, I hope that this will perhaps give you the forethought to write down your favorite books. Maybe you can even start making your own collection of honored favorites.

As for myself, I will continue to find new YAs by my favorite authors and by new, soon-to-be-favorite authors. Everytime I go to a bookstore, I come home with at least one Romance, one Historical Fiction, and at least two YAs. It’s a sickness, but one I’m happy to live with.

Looking back at my booksteps, and looking across the room to my special shelf, I thought I’d pass on a few of my favorite finds from the journey, in no particular order of preference.

Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine.
Wise Child; and Juniper, by Monica Furlong.
Princess Nevermore, by Dian Curtis Regan.
Gypsy Rizka, by Lloyd Alexander.
The Ancient One, by T.A. Barron.
Matilda Bone; and The Midwife’s Apprentice, by Karen Cushman.
The Moorchild, by Eloise McGraw.
Song of the Magdalene; and Zel; and Spinners, by Donna Jo Napoli.
The On Fortune’s Wheel series by Cynthia Voigt; and the Dicey’s Song series, by Cynthia Voigt.
Sabriel; and Abhorsen; and Lirael, by Garth Nix.
The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, by Patricia C. Wrede.
And the one I had most longed to find? The one that all I could remember was the coral colored cover? The Ramsay Scallop, by Frances Temple. Oh, and the dog? Yeah it was on the back cover.

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6 Responses to “Retracing My Booksteps – Finding the Books of My Youth, and Re-reading Them as an Adult”

  1. Maisey May 10, 2010 at 3:25 pm #

    Hi, Rachel! Great post. Ella Enchanted is a favorite of mine too, along with the Harry Potter books. Homeless Bird, The Witch of Blackbird Pond…I love YA. I still do. In so many ways, those powerful moments of romance in YA you mentioned were my gateway into adult romance.

  2. Katrina Williams May 10, 2010 at 5:49 pm #

    Rachel, what a great story! I’ve read some of these too. For me, I was lucky enough that the author who made the most impact on me was Tamora Pierce and she’s still very much in print. I got a job in a bookstore during college and on the first day I ordered the Song of the Lioness series in hardback and they are all currently behind glass in my study.

    Unfortunately, the other author I loved, Jean E. Karl, is difficult to get. Still have my eye out at used bookstores though…Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

  3. melsmag May 10, 2010 at 9:36 pm #

    “These great books have helped me develop into the person and the writer that I am today.” This is the line that caught me the most. And it’s true. There’s so many books that have shaped my reading experiences and how/what I write. I LOVED Christopher Pike growing up and devoured his books, same with Goosebumps. I may have moved away from YA books, but some of my strongest, fondest memories are of those books.

  4. Jeannie Lin May 11, 2010 at 12:16 am #

    What a wonderful way to walk down memory lane. I was huge into the Three Investigators in elementary school. Middle school was S.E. Hinton and…shh!!….V.C. Andrews. Then high school was traditional fantasy and science fiction. Outsiders was a huge favorite. Summer of My German Soldier was another.

    Thanks for the great idea Rachel!

  5. aplaceforwriters May 11, 2010 at 12:40 am #

    What a wonderful story! It’s strange but I have often longed for the books of my childhood. Like you, I devoured the library as a kid, but we couldn’t read adult books then – the adults had a whole different card thing and we kids couldn’t get an adult card until we graduated from high school. But, alas, I live thousands of miles from my childhood library, so a visit there is rather out of the question – and I couldn’t walk out with the books in any event. But, just thinking about doing what you did kinda gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling. Thanks! Julie

  6. Rachel Jameson May 13, 2010 at 7:28 pm #

    Thanks for the lovely comments – I’m so glad you enjoyed my little journey. Sorry for the late response – am in the midst of the pit of renovation doom. Total mess. Thanks again Bria for the opportunity to blog!

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