Which books will you never read again?
Not because they’re bad or boring, but because you love them. You love what they mean to you, or what they meant to you when you turned that final page.
Relegating a book to the realm of wistful memories and fond nostalgia can involve some powerful feelings that are all wrapped up in both the story itself and the circumstances under which you first embraced it. I’ve laid to rest a pile of novels from my youth that I likely won’t revisit. I don’t want to squash my younger self’s joy by experiencing these books once more and taking on the very real risk that I’ll leave disappointed.
We come first to The Phantom Tollbooth, which would have been my immediate answer to the dreaded “What’s your favorite book?” question for quite a long stretch of my life. I first encountered the book in sixth grade, when my Language Arts class did a table-read of a truncated version of the novel as a short play. I was cast in the role of the Spelling Bee—perhaps a good omen for my future career as a writer. Enthralled by the characters and concepts, I ventured to the bookstore later that week and picked up Norton Juster’s classic novel.
I remember the book as a turning point for me as a reader. It taught me that fantasy could be wacky, full of puns and idioms brought to vivid life on the page. I was Milo, thrust from my doldrums in the real world into the realm of imagination.
Now, with many hundreds of beautiful and imaginative books behind me, I plan to leave The Phantom Tollbooth in my past. I’d much prefer to remember it as a turning point—a book that changed my life, in a real sense—than try to recapture the magic.
Journeying just a tad further back in time, we arrive in fifth grade, when I first read The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Andrews (yes, that Julie Andrews). My fifth grade teacher—shout-out to Mrs. Holland—was instrumental in my growth as a reader and as a person, and The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles sticks in my memory as her strongest recommendation. Julie Andrews’ fantasy for young readers sees the Potter siblings venture into a whimsical world that would be right at home in a Roald Dahl book. It was, naturally, the second fantasy book I’d read featuring a magical world populated by characters with the “Potter” surname. I credit the book with opening my eyes to the wider world of fantasy that existed beyond the more popular Potter kid. Knowing it’s a short, sweet read for elementary schoolers that I read at the perfect time firmly plants The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles in my memory as another seminal book I won’t read again.
Our stroll down my avenue of bookish memories now takes a short stop at the Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan. I read The Ruins of Gorlan in a single day during my sophomore year of high school. I couldn’t wait to start the next, so I went to Barnes & Noble to buy the next three books in the series. I plunged headfirst into the story, following Will and his teacher Halt on their medieval-ish adventures in this young adult epic fantasy series. From that point on, I’ve owed my love of huge series to Flanagan and his Ranger’s Apprentice books. Ever since I finished the core series, I’ve been a veritable series fiend. But I hesitate to reunite with Will, Halt, and company; I fear their exploits won’t have the same depth I’ve come to expect from my favorite books nowadays. However, when I see the Ranger’s Apprentice novels in bookstores, I smile and think about a hypothetical future in which perhaps I’ll get to share the series with my as-yet-nonexistent children.
Let’s jump forward now: as a Resident Assistant in a college dorm, with a room all to myself, I could read the nights away after churning out a paper or studying for a test. It was in these wee hours that I finished Peter and the Starcatchers, a four-book core series with a fifth-side adventure. I had met the authors—Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson—at a local meet-and-greet. My sister and I read through the series together, often during our self-created summer reading competitions (…must’ve been hard to parent such rebellious kids).
By the time I finished Peter and the Sword of Destiny (no relation to Andrzej Sapkowski’s Sword of Destiny), I was halfway through college and primed to switch over to reading more adult fantasy. The Peter series represented the end of an era, and while I would go on to read many other YA books here and there, this was the last YA series I read during a time when that was pretty much the only category of book I consumed.
Now, we get a little closer to the current day in this ambling through my history as a bookworm: In my mid-twenties, I decided to re-read A Series of Unfortunate Events before the Netflix adaptation premiered. What began as a blissful walk through a formerly favorite fantasy series soon became a slog, a grind. The later books were multi-hundred-page affairs, and I kept thinking I needed more from them. By now, I had become a reader who craved depth and plot beyond what Unfortunate Events could offer. They were often delightful, sometimes poignant, and generally good, but they just didn’t hit quite the same as they did when a young, wide-eyed Cole had picked up the 13-book series years before.
Despite the re-read slightly spoiling my taste for it, I still look back on Lemony Snicket’s series as a formative reading experience. Revisiting those books was the very inspiration for this article, since it led to the realization that sometimes a story is best left in the wistful annals of your memories, to be revisited mentally instead of literally. And isn’t that the point? A story’s impact can last a lifetime, even if the story itself is but a distant, deeply fond recollection.
Are there books that you’ve memorialized in the same way? What stories call to you from the past, remembered fondly and still worthy of praise, but perhaps better left as fond memories? Let me know in the comments.