When I got to high school, I entered the phase where I tried to read books so gingerly that you couldn’t tell afterwards that the book had even been opened, let alone read, but in my Lois Duncan years, there was nothing tender about my reading habits: and even had there been, I read these novels so many times that it couldn’t have helped but show, their covers and spines battered and worn.
Despite my fondness for them, however, I’d never gone back to re-read them. I did buy a copy of Summer of Fear last summer for my niece, and was shocked at how up-to-date the cover looked; that made me think that the books might not be as dated as I’d imagined. My own covers were so 70s they practically flared at the bottoms, but their inclusion in Lizzie Skelnick’s Shelf Discovery sealed the deal: I had to re-read.
And so, one night after work, I started re-reading Down a Dark Hall, and the atmosphere was just as I remembered: I was immediately pleased and intrigued. I felt like I was as hooked on the story as I had been as a girl and the next night I ran a hot bath and snatched up the book again to settle in for another chapter. And, the next night, another. But I had a growing sense of unease: something was wrong, and not just at the mysterious school of Blackwood.
I hadn’t grabbed a bookmark for my re-read yet, so I thumbed through the pages to find my place and realized what felt wrong about this; I’d never, in my history of reading this book, taken so many days to turn so few pages in it. I felt like I was enjoying it as much as I had thirty years earlier, but I wasn’t reading it like it deserved to be read. I certainly wasn’t reading it with the kind of abandon that I’d read it as a young girl: I set it aside and waited, waited until I had a quiet evening in which I could devote a chunk of time to this chilling tale.
And that did it: I was plunged into Kit’s narrative and turned the pages until the book was done. Which is just how I would have read it as a young girl. Exactly how I did read it so many times. I honestly did not remember the ending, so I was fiercely determined to find out what was going to happen and I found myself reading past my bedtime to learn the outcome (a privilege accorded to grown-ups, entitled to choose how sleep-deprived they will be for having chosen to read “just one more chapter”). And then I was too adrenaline-soaked to go to sleep, so I had to read a couple of chapters in my next Shelf-Discovery read to calm myself down.
That, too, is characteristic of my reading as a young girl: one book led immediately to the next, to the next, to the next. It was a wonderful sense of absorption and I appreciate the mimicry of it, even though the reality of work-a-day-adult-life seems unfairly weighted; the privilege of late-night-reading is counterbalanced by a seemingly unjust responsibility to NOT read for entire stretches of evenings, with so many hours claimed by earning a paycheque, doing dishes and running errands, when that time could be so much more enjoyably spent with a handful of good books.