Tami Parker Other Duties as Assigned

Books as Experiences



I find it fascinating to re-read an old book.

My expectation is always that it will be like revisiting an old friend I haven’t seen in a while. We’ve both changed in the interim, but in general we know what to expect from each other.

After all, when I was a kid, that’s exactly what it was like re-reading my worn old companions.

Everything Changes

These days, it’s totally different.

It’s probably due to the longer time between readings — but also in large part due to the changes in myself as a reader and the writing world as a whole.

I notice things that never used to bother me. Cliches. Misogyny. Tropes. Awkward wordings or weak plots.

Storytelling Changes

Also, even in the relatively short time since becoming an avid reader, styles themselves have changed.

Books now demand a tighter plot with immediate action. Page One Line One had better grip the reader immediately, Or Else.

Passive characters used to be acceptable. Books that once were happily described as “The Adventures of So and So” are now laughably dated.

Change is Good

This isn’t a complaint, by the way.

These are all objectively improvements upon the older storytelling systems and I find I have little to no patience for stories that insist upon an antiquated system.

Not only do I not have time to read as much as I once did, I just … don’t enjoy it any more. Sure, every once in a while one is worth the effort of wading through but in general they end as muddy and unfocused as they begin.

Past Me

The only “problem” lies in my inability to reread an old favorite and enjoy it the same way that I did when I was younger.

Young me didn’t just read those books. She LIVED them. Loved them. Cherished them.

These days, I hesitate to crack open those pages because I don’t want to tarnish that glowing, ruby-lensed memory of them.

A Book is an Experience

“How good the book is” is tangled up with memory and history and beribboned by that one moment in time.

Which means that the books I’m reading now? The ones I enjoy today? They’re only as good (or bad) as they are for ME right NOW.

A book isn’t just a story about a character.

It’s a story about the reader, too. And a time and a place.

And that, my good friends? That is true magic.


  • You have great timing. Ros and I went to a production of Medea last weekend. We both remembered loving Euripedes’ play. But this time, it felt flat. The actors were great, the language was beautiful, but…

    For the first time, I realized that the play has no narrative arc. It has no character development. There are no surprises. The play starts after Medea has been wronged. She announces what she’s going to do to avenge herself on Jason. And then, well, she does it. 95% of the play is just people hysterically emoting at each other. It has all the drama of sticking your thumb in an open wound.

    I find I encounter this disconnect often when I read “great” literature. This year I realized I don’t much like Shakespeare. Oh, his phrasing is heavenly, to be sure. But too many of his plots are inane and overly complex, his characters two-dimensional. My mother-in-law thinks Moby Dick is the greatest novel ever written. I appalled her when I insisted that no modern publisher would give it a second glance. It’s flabby, self-indulgent, and completely devoid of narrative structure. Seriously. It’s a book “about” whaling and the first whale doesn’t appear in my edition until page 219. Nothing happens for 510 pages. Then the Moby-ster shows up and lamentates everyone in 10 pages. Ta-da! The End. Roll credits.

    I do not think I’m being a spoiled modernist when I say, “I want better than that. I want a Shakespeare whose plots don’t look like a plate of spaghetti. I want a story that begins in the first chapter, not page 500. I want a protagonist I can cheer for, not a weak, simpering ditz (usually a woman) who drifts helplessly in life’s currents.

    • There are definitely a ton of problematic themes and characterizations throughout older work (and some modern work, though at least it’s more fashionable to become educated about it in modern work).

      I’ve never enjoyed “great” literature, so much of what you’re saying has me nodding my head in agreement instead of feeling like you’ve violated my precious memories (lol) but it’s true even of my guilty pleasure reading sometimes.

Tami Parker Other Duties as Assigned