Why You’re Allowed to Grow Out of Books and Authors

As a twentysomething, I’ve learned that growing out of things is natural. For so long I resisted that part of growth, because I thought it meant that in order to become an adult I had to let go of everything that I loved as a child. But that’s not true: the things we love as children—books, movies, characters, even stuffed animals—tend to shape us as people in pivotal ways, so there’s definitely no need to discard them because someone told you that’s what growing up is. However, sometimes we can’t always avoid the fact that we’ve grown out of something: people, places, mindsets or, most depressingly, books.

Last year, I wrote about how I think I’ve outgrown young adult novels, because as much as there are YA books that I will always hold dear to my heart, I can’t escape the fact that I don’t hold the same mindset that I held when I read YA. Similarly, I’ve come to realize that outgrowing books isn’t limited to a specific genre aimed at a specific age group. Sometimes we grow out of books merely because we aren’t the same people we were when we read them.

Over the last few months, I’ve learned how enjoyable rereading books can be, especially if you loved them the first time. If I love a movie, I’m definitely going to watch it multiple times, so why can’t that also apply to books? As I’ve continued to make progress on the physical pile of unread books I keep in my bedroom (because, you know, quarantine), I thought it might also be a good time to reread some old favorites. I was wrong.

Unfortunately, quarantine and a global pandemic don’t make for an easy time to focus on words on a page on a good day, so finding the ability to focus on words I’ve already read before—no matter how much I loved them the first time—turned out to be incredibly difficult. But I don’t think that was the only reason I was having trouble rereading old favorites: I think I had to accept that I’m just not the person I was when I read those books, and I have no interest in turning back around (at least not during a global crisis). And maybe that can be a good thing.

Growing up, I didn’t always have the easiest of times in the schoolyard as a quiet, sensitive, bookish boy who preferred musicals over sports. I’m from the French Canadian province of Quebec, where we don’t have middle school: high school goes from grades seven to eleven, and then you attend a college called CEGEP before starting university. So starting what we call high school has always been messy for us, considering everyone matures at different rates.

My parents and friends had always loved and supported my queer side as a kid, but by the time high school started, pressure to conform pushed me into the very far corners of the closet. Because I was bullied often during those first few years and called gay before I could figure it out for myself, I felt rejected by my age group and by my generation. As a result, I did everything I could to distance myself from the likes and dislikes of kids my age. Instead of listening to Top 40 radio like everyone else, I listened only to Madonna, Whitney, and the disco CDs that my mom kept in the car. While everyone else rushed to the theatre to see the Twilight and Hunger Games movies, I watched Judy Garland musicals and Meryl Streep dramas at home by myself. And while everyone else gushed over The Fault in Our Stars or Divergent, I was reading The Client, The Time Traveler’s Wife, and anything else I could get my hands on that felt grown up and just for me to enjoy. Bullies and their judgments had taken everything away from me, so I’ve always yearned for things that are just mine.

Eventually I learned that I was able to peek my head out of the closet and enjoy what I enjoy without fear of judgment, but it didn’t erase the years of ugly feelings or the fact that I didn’t know or love myself for far too long. And, sadly, since I tend to remember exactly which book I was reading at certain points in my life, I associate any ugliness that I felt with those books, too.

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As a teenager, my favorite author was Kate Morton. Her historical fiction novels that took place in several different time periods and spanned different generations of family secrets always had me staying up until the early hours of the morning. But as I continued to grow up, I found myself being able to invest in her books less and less. Maybe it’s because the stories did become more and more unoriginal with a bit of “you’ve read one, you’ve read them all,” but I think it has to do more with the fact that I’m not the anxious, awkward, and bullied 14-year-old who read Kate Morton at lunch by himself to escape his unpleasant reality anymore. Thankfully, I let go of that boy a long time ago. So when I tried to pick up Morton’s latest novel The Clockmaker’s Daughter during quarantine, I just couldn’t do it. I’m not that person anymore, so maybe it’s time to read more books that reflect the person I am now.

Maybe it’s because quarantine has also brought up some ugly feelings. Maybe it’s because a pandemic is a good excuse to cut some of the drama from our lives. Maybe it’s because I rewatched A Star is Born awhile ago and I’ve had Bradley Cooper’s voice in my head ever since saying, “Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die.” All I know is that, when you heavily associate your own struggles with whatever book you were reading at the time, it’s okay to let go of them too, just as you’ve hopefully managed to let go of your former selves. That doesn’t mean you can’t still classify those titles as old favorites or keep them on your bookshelves as a reminder of how far you’ve come, but it does mean you don’t have to continue to reread them. You’re allowed to grow out of things, because it allows for new, exciting, and liberating chapters to take their place. In the words of author Mandy Hale, “Growth is painful. Change is painful. But nothing is as painful as staying stuck somewhere you don’t belong.”

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