A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about why and what I tend to re-read. There is one book that I have been re-reading for the last 20 years.
That is a very strange thing to be typing.
The book picture above is the one that has always stuck with me: Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon. This epic retelling of the King Arthur legend through the point of view of his mother, his sister, and his aunt was recommended to me by a friend when I was in seventh grade. The mini-series had just come out and the book had magic, strong women, and sex in it. Needless to say, I was in.
If I ever have to pick a favorite book, I usually say this one. Is it perfect? No. Is it controversial? Oh yeah. But, I pick it not for what others would rate it, but because it is the one that I cannot stop thinking about. It is the one that reflected some of my adolescent thinking and my adolescent struggles.
Even at the time, I realized the profound effect that book had on me. I saw strong and smart women struggling for their independence against an emerging patriarchal society. Something I was noticing women in the world around me doing in the early 2000s. I saw women at the center of a religion, healing, and caring and eventually overcome by war and foreign men during a time when I was questioning the religious tenants that I was being raised by. I saw one of my favorite legends through the eyes of a misunderstood, young woman trying to find her place in her family and society, something I thought I was. And of course, in my emerging awareness of sex and hormones, I was addicted to the love stories. I realized all of this at the time. Although, I’m not sure I would have used these words.
Because of this book, I felt like I had the power to conquer anything. I became more interested in world religions and women’s history. Even though the book is fiction, I felt like I was learning that women had a role in history. And I was very into the kissing. Needless to say, I read it again the next year and my friend group passed it around. Mostly because of the kissing. Unfortunately, my mother had seen the mini-series, and told me not to read the book any more because it was “not appropriate.”
I did stop reading it, but neglected to mention that I had already read it. I bought a copy for myself like two years later and she resigned herself to the fact that I was reading it and going to continue reading it. She must have been horrified at the thought that a book with sex, strong women, and paganism was in my hands and that I was empowered by this book to be more vocal about who I was and what I believed. I was relieved. That book came to me at the exact right time.
From that point on, I have re-read the book every few years and my reactions have reflected my own experience at the time. In my teens and early twenties, I identified with the same strong, upstart characters and was still very interested in the kissing. Mostly the kissing. In my mid-late twenties, I hated those characters and was ambivalent towards much of the kissing. All the drama. No one was following any rules. The older characters were too controlling. The younger ones were too whiny. All the men were the worst, except for one, very liberal thinking one.
In my thirties, I have read it once and I find myself with much less anger and frustration towards the characters. I am more in-tune with where all the character’s emotions are coming from. I understand the tough choices the older generations must make. I understand the frustrations of the younger generations, who just want to change. I’m little over the magic and the fantastical elements, although I think they are beautifully written. I still like some of the kissing, although it seems a little uncomfortable to be doing it while lying in the grass or the hay.
This is a book that I know I will read forever. I will carry my memories of the reading experience forever. My reading experience will change and grow forever. This is a book that grows with me and I with it…even though I am not super into fantasy anymore.