I previously wrote a blog about how where we read a book impacts our perception of it. For example, reading Cara Black’s Murder on the Left Bank while staying on the Left Bank definitely heightened my pleasure. While the book remains the same, our surroundings can make it more—or less—enjoyable to read.

Jardin des Plantes, setting for some of the action scenes in Murder on the Left Bank.

A recent experience made me contemplate how when we read a book might also affect our enjoyment. I’m not talking about reading in the morning vs. in the evening. I’m talking about when in our lives we encounter the book—whether we are young or old, whether the times are calm or turbulent.

I had asked my Facebook friends for book recommendations and received dozens of suggestions. Good friends of mine suggested The Silent Gondoliers by William Goldman. I hadn’t read it and William Goldman is one of my favorite authors. Both his Marathon Man and The Princess Bride might make my top 100 favorite books. I bumped that title to the top.

To my surprise, The Silent Gondoliers turned out to be a slim volume of 110 pages, and that is with many exquisite drawings by Paul Giovanopoulos. It’s a quick read by “S. Morgenstern,” the same alter ego Goldman adopted as the “source” of The Princess Bride, of which he, Goldman, relayed the “good parts.”  Like The Princess Bride, The Silent Gondoliers is targeting the child inside its adult audience.

A favorite, but I was in my thirties.

And yet, I failed to be charmed by the The Silent Gondoliers. Objectively, I knew, the book was charming. Is charming. The fault was in myself. Age, I think, has narrowed the line between charming and silly. 

Recently, I had a cupcake party in the back yard with a few fully-vaccinated friends to celebrate my birthday and a return to normality. I rummaged through my party supplies and found some left-over birthday napkins. But, their design was of a blithe figure holding a cocktail. Fine back when I’d used them, but now? Too young. Not right. I used them for house cleaning. 

It was a little like that with The Silent Gondoliers. Its appeal is much like that of The Princess Bride, but I read The Princess Bride when I was in my thirties, young and brimming with the possibilities of life. “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” That dialog is indelibly printed in my brain. Now I wonder if any book can make that kind of impression. Would I even like The Princess Bride if I picked it up now?

And then there are The Times themselves. It’s not just that I was much younger in the 1980s when I read The Princess Bride, The Times were simpler. Computers weren’t common. Cell phones were big, clunky, unusual things with antennas. We weren’t bombarded with information, clamoring for our attention. There was no 24-hour news cycle. It was easier—for me—to be transported to a magical realm.

Now things seem too dire for that to be an easy trip. I’m a hopeful, optimistic person by nature, but having lived through a global pandemic, fearing our climate crisis is past the tipping point, and wondering if our democracy will survive, these things make it harder to relax into a simple, charming tale without a nagging sensation that perhaps I should doing something—reading something—more serious.