Neil Gaiman’s Sandman has the idea of a dream library that’s filled with all the books people have never written, but thought about writing — the unwritten stories by celebrated authors and those who never got past the blank first page alike. It’s a wonderful, romantic idea: yes, all those small disappointments we harbor inside (because all of us, each and every single one of us, has at least one book they secretly wish they’d been able to write; I have many) are relieved just a little because there’s somewhere that those dreams are fulfilled, no pun intended.
What I want to see instead, though, is a sister library: one filled by the versions of books that we’ve read but misremember. Especially when, as I’ve been discovering on multiple occasions lately, the versions of the book that we remember end up being significantly more interesting than the actual books themselves.
As frustrating as this experience has been — these experiences? Does it count as a separate experience if the disappointment is the same, just on a different topic? — there’s something to be said for the realization that my initial suspicion, fueled by the curmudgeonly attitude of an old man, that books were simply better back in the day, or at least filled with more interesting and challenging material, especially when it came to culture writing turns out to be just plain wrong.
Maybe I was simply more impressionable and more easily impressed, or it could be that my memory has rushed to paper over earlier disappointments by making me believe I was reading better material in the first place. All I know is that certain books I remembered as being eyeopening and worth of a revisit have demonstrated that just the opposite was true. The age of the cynical curmudgeon is always now, it seems.