Do you struggle to get past your reading golden age?

Brian G Turner

Fantasist & Futurist
Staff member
Nov 23, 2002
I've noticed quite a few writers in general are apt to name certain books as big influences, which could only have been read while they were young, and that few modern novels feature in such lists.

It's made me wonder if it's common to have a golden age of reading - where the stories we read spoke to us, and became a part of our inner world.

In such instances, it may be difficult for any other books or authors to be enjoyed so much, and reading lists to instead focus on books of the period that meant the most to us, for the purpose of nostalgia.

I know I had my golden age in the late 80's early 90's, but specifically with comics - Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman's Sandman, Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol, and Jamie Delano's Captain Britain and Hellblazer. - along with a few minor titles.

This means that I don't feel so restricted with novels, though it's certainly happened with the music I listen you - old groups and albums, and rarely anything new.

The question is, is all this ordinary? Do you feel like you've experienced something like this? Or is it less common than I presume?
Three of my favourite authors who'd I'd consider influential on my writing have only been discovered by me in the last five years. So, for me, no. My golden age is still ongoing. :)
I'll bet that this is a very common phenomenon. Like you (and many others) -- I still prefer "classic rock" (primarily late 1960's to early 1970's) to more recent music. (When I want to listen to something "new," it might be new wave/power pop from the 1980's or early Goth or early alternative from the 1990's; I am almost completely ignorant about 21st century popular music.)

My own "golden age" was about the same time in science fiction and fantasy, from New Wave (that term again, later than it was used in cinema but earlier than it was used in music) to "new" writers like John Varley. (I'm currently reading a novel from 2000, and it seems as it was just printed today as far as I'm concerned.)
Much of my favourite music is recent discoveries, but there's a special kind of energy to stuff we absorbed when we were young. Actually, I find music from that time of my life holds up better than fiction -- I can still enjoy it despite being in a position to recognise its flaws, whereas many of my favourite books from youth, although they still have a special place in my heart, I now struggle to reread.
In music, I tend to listen to the classic rock of the past. But in reading, I enjoy new stuff very much and It is still a great journey of discovery. Having said that, though, I had a golden age of reading, simply because I had so much more time for it when I was younger.
I think that while many people will find much to enjoy and be inspired by from their contemporaries and colleges, when asked who our influences are we reach back to the roots of our passion, childhood heroes... those works that opened our minds to the worlds of creation we came to love so much we wanted to create our own. Those would be the influences cited in interviews because there is a visceral and instructive connection to those works.

Even if we create visceral and instructive connections to later works, they are less likely to be cited in an interview to prevent fans of the one that are not fans of the other from crying that we stole ideas from the more revered author.
I think my "golden age" for both reading and other popular media was preteen to early teen years. It is a time of being a quick learner and very open minded to new ideas, yet mature enough to process information in a long-lasting way.

I think my teen daughter is in her "golden age" now. I used to try to influence her tastes more, but it is very normal for her to branch out and develop her own interests. She really likes apocalyptic and dystopian survival stories, and I suspect this will influence her choices in fiction lifelong.
I relate to this, and it bothers me a bit that I'm actually reluctant to try new books and authors and so am probably missing out on a lot of great stuff.

I think there's a few things going on - one, I'm now sceptical of hyped new books (especially if there's an obvious PR campaign) which often turn out not to be so special. Too often burned, I guess. Two - I have less time to try out new books. Three - these days I read a lot of non-fiction, which leaves less room for fiction. (When younger, I never read non-fiction at all.) Four - I've now read a lot of fiction over the years, and when I feel in the mood for some epic fantasy, or crazy sci-fi featuring telepathic jaguars and mating planets, or daftness featuring some endearing witches or whatever, it actually seems easier to go and re-read Tolkien, Sheri S.Tepper or Pratchett etc etc rather than trying something new, because I know they are good.

And it's the same thing with music too.
I agree Brian. My golden age is between 1980-1995. There was just so much available in sf, both classic authors and new. However, I'm always open to new authors, it's just that there don't seem to be as many getting published as there used to be. There are some gems to be sure. Cixin Liu is great and I recommend trying his books to anyone.
As I’ve got older, I’ve read more history books, and in a way that’s satisfied some of my need for SFF. I recently read books on the Medici and the Battle of Kohima which were just as interesting, and as alien to me, as a lot of SFF. I also find that my own writing is increasingly influenced by history, if only as a jumping-off point from which to make things up.

When I was younger, I found books more immersive, perhaps because it was the first time that I was experiencing not just one particular book but anything like it. A lot of people seem to have this with The Lord of the Rings: I had it with Titus Groan and Gormenghast, which still fascinate me. They were incredibly detailed and immersive. They contained everything from comedy to horror, and Peake’s prose made those details feel entirely solid. Now, though, I’ve got frames of reference I didn’t have when I was 15, and new books don’t feel like such a revelation.

I can also remember reading Orwell and feeling for the first time ever that this was an author who was not just clever, but actually saying something with which I agreed in language that I liked: here was someone talking to people like me (I still find this). Before then, I’d been of the view that great authors wrote purple prose about refined, cosmopolitan things (or occasionally utterly squalid things) that didn’t really impinge upon my life. I’m unlikely to have that sort of revelation again.
I read less fiction than I did when I was 12-22. A lot less. I used to read a couple novels a week. These days I read about ten novels a year, and as many non-fictions books. I chalk it up to increasing difficulty immersing myself in a fictional world, more distractions and responsibilities, and to how fussy I've become about what I do read. It's as though each really good novel I read sets the bar a little higher. I used to tear through Stephen King and Piers Anthony books, but I'd hesitate to give them a re-read. And even the books that did make a deep impression on me when I was younger - Dune, Watership Down, the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever - are probably best left as fond memories. Then there's Tolkien, which I read several times in my salad years, and started re-reading when the movies came out, only to be sadly disappointed. One of the few classics of my youth that I've re-read without regret is a Wizard of Earthsea. And the pleasures of Jack Vance remain undiminished.

So I'd say I miss the passion I used to have for fiction. The energy I brought to the endeavor, the sheer volume of books I read, and the ability to enjoy them without any self-consciousness. However, I'd hold up the gems I have enjoyed in my full maturity to any of the stuff I marveled over when I was younger; The Long Ships, A Storm of Swords, The Warlord Chronicles, the Aubrey/Maturin books, Drood, Lonesome Dove, the Man Who Was Thursday. It's worth noting that only one of the books I just cited is fantasy or SF. Like Toby, today I get my immersion and marvels from non-fiction. Ancient Greece, Roman Britain, and the Khyber Pass are the imaginary worlds I prefer these days. And yet here I am on a SF/F forum, and I'm working on a fantasy novel.

Baring some unexpected revival of passion, my own golden age of speculative fiction is past. In recent years there are works of SF/F that I read and admired. Books by Gene Wolfe, Patricia McKillip, and Cordwainer Smith. But they don't give me the simple pleasure I used to get from SF/F, even though I doubt I would get that pleasure going back and reading those authors of my youth.
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I don't struggle to get past old favorites. Old favorites coexist with exciting new discoveries. Some of my favorite authors, such as Sigrid Undset, are ones I began to read only in middle age. However, a very important source of "new" reading for me is old books that were well regarded by authors I follow. For example, see the piece pasted below on Lynch's Menace from the Moon. I would hate to be limited to books published in the past 30 years, but recent books often put me on to "new" old books. I just read Eugene Vodolazkin's just-published and excellent Laurus, which I hope will cop a Mythopoeic Society award or World Fantasy award; and it, in turn, put me on to The Greek Alexander Romance, which is about 2000 years old I suppose, and which I will start reading this morning....

Jack and the Bookshelf #6

Bohun Lynch’s Menace from the Moon

This early science fiction novel, published in London by Jarrolds in 1925, is indeed a little-known book. Lewis doesn’t seem to have commented on it, but a copy was in his library as catalogued a few years after his death.

Fans of H. G. Wells and John Buchan -- such as Lewis himself -- could have enjoyed the novel’s imaginative premise, occasional bits of satire, and atmospheric passages. The premise is that, in the seventeenth century, the secret of travel to the moon was discovered and three human couples went there. Their ancestors have survived but not thriven. Now never-specified “terribly hostile” conditions make it imperative that they come to the earth; but they no longer possess the secret. They beam at-first-puzzling messages to earth using, as is eventually realized, the “universal” shorthand devised by Bishop Wilkins (an historical person, onetime Warden of Wadham College, Oxford, author of An Essay Towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language [1668], subject of an essay by Jorge Luis Borges). They threaten earth with destruction from heat-ray projections unless papers their ancestors left behind are retrieved and their contents beamed back to them by the “super-cinematograph” that they assume earth-dwellers must, like themselves, possess. However, those papers appear to have perished; in any event the people of earth don’t have the technology by which to communicate with the moon people; and doom seems assured.

Lynch develops the satirical or ghastly possibilities of human behavior under such an appalling death-sentence less intensely than an author today might. Many people, at least in England, either deny that there really is such a danger or despite their expectations go about their activities as if nothing dreadful is imminent. (This behavior may be a satire on English phlegm.)

Lynch’s writing conveys a Buchanesque quality of adventure early in the novel, when the narrator is lost in the fog on a moor. The sudden and frightening appearance of strange lights -- he doesn’t realize at first that they are projections of Wilkins’s “hieroglyphics” – and the apparition of a face may remind some readers a little of the frightening experiences “Lewis” has at the beginning of Perelandra. The sequence in Menace, Chapter 14, in which the narrator becomes lost again, this time in Italian mountains, and stumbles upon a weird, torch-lit rite conducted by old men beneath the pines, is a bit like something out of Buchan’s “The Wind in the Portico” or The Dancing Floor, stories Lewis is pretty likely to have read and enjoyed. (Along with books about boxing and a few other novels, Lynch wrote a book about travels in Italy, and the Italian episode in Menace from the Moon is as evocative as his moorland material.) A chapter about a mad Oxford scholar, who happens to reside in an old house that might have contained one of the manuscripts needed by the moon-dwellers, and who sets his own house on fire, is exciting in Buchan’s manner, while the sequence in which an invisible ray causes the Ligurian coast to become terribly hot suggests the fiction of Wells, except that Wells would probably have made the passage more frightening.

The novel’s resolution depends on the release of energy from the nucleus of the atom in a way that is surprising for a fiction published just a few years after Ernest Rutherford split the atom, and twenty years before the “Trinity” nuclear test in New Mexico.

(c) 2015 Dale Nelson
This whole golden age of reading is most likely a personal thing and, though I can remember a time, I have been able to look back and discover there was more than just the reading involved.

For instance back in the late 1950's and early 1960's we had these cinnamon sticks we could buy and often the smell of cinnamon will evoke a nostalgic memory of something I read or some music or a movie. So in a way I'd call those fools golden years, because they were years where other sensory experience dominated as much as the reading.

So today when I go back to those books I take it all with a grain of salt (cinnamon stick) before I try to judge what I felt was so marvelous about that book or movie or music.

I think in the past I did reread more than I do today; but there were many more compelling reasons. In 1959 my access to libraries and even drugstores that sold quarter novels was limited and their access to new works was equally limited so often to fill the gap I would reread what I most liked. Any thing new was always a treat because there was often a long wait between.

In the early 1960's when my access grew-library wise- I was able to start filling in with Jules Verne and H.G. Wells and Arthur Conan Doyle and Alexander Dumas; still even then there were times I'd go back and reread them because of a dearth of material.

Probably Mid 1960's was a more fluid golden age that lasted well into the early 1980's (I read mostly SF and whatever there was available with a vast library of authors.) and it was about the early to mid 1980's that time and circumstances brought my reading to a momentary halt.

In the 1990's I began reading again and re-read my rather extensive library to build momentum and to be honest I think this was the time I first allowed myself to become acquainted with Charles Dickens.

One thing I have not been able to do is to pick up the LOTR trilogy which I read back in the mid to late 1960's. I have only ever read that once and once was enough for me; which takes me back to this is all a matter of personal taste.

Now days with so much available I feel I'm in my golden age (maybe silver age ) because there is so much stuff out there to read that I always have a stack of titles I've not read and another stack of titles I think are interesting along with the current work I'm reading. Considering the early dearth of available material, I'd have to say this is my golden years of reading even though I'm less compelled to reread most of the current material I have read.

If I compare my enthusiasm for what I do read to other peoples enthusiasm for reading and rereading the LOTR then I'm in some sort of golden age.
I reckon there's always a Golden Age of some kind going on. What's happening now? No idea, don't care much. But - for Rock music... well, 67-72 is, and always will be, the GoldenAge. You can mine 62-67 and 72-76... but the Gold is in them five years, which has prompted the formation of a band - aptly named '6772'... that tributes the greatness, before it got pretentious and nofun and oh just nevermind. ****
I suspect a lot of it is 'seen it all before' syndrome. So many books lift ideas from each other, and so many fashions come and go and come back again, that I often feel I've already read the books that are being released today.

Give me something original, or a new take on the old stories, and I'll jump at it. But the same old space opera... not so much.
It's made me wonder if it's common to have a golden age of reading - where the stories we read spoke to us, and became a part of our inner world.
partly true... but if we take even the last 20 years of writings as Modern, then EVEN if the same percentage of ANY 20 year period are good books, the previous 5000+ Years win. Just from sheer volume.

I was looking at SF& F authors in the bookshop today and wondering why I liked so few of them (there were ones I like quite a lot). So if you have read widely for very many years, the older books will win by sheer weight of numbers even if authors are just the same range of meh to brilliant. Inevitably too in every age there are best sellers which are poorly regarded even then and best sellers that disappear. There are a few books and authors that gradually become more popular with time.

So statistically for Art the last 20 years is never "golden". It's too soon to tell if it's the next "golden age"! IMO, I rather think 1995 to 2015 is quite poor for serious SF, most seems more Science Fantasy and Space Opera, too influenced by TV and Cinema. But Fantasy over all seems to be doing rather better in quality and more varied than 1975 to 1995.

I think a lot of the established (from 1950s) SF authors got pretentious and some simply produced to order from 1980s. It wasn't because they got old. non-Space Opera SF seems to have gone downhill from 1980s and in more recent years obsessed with Trans-humanism, immortality, nano-tech and AI all in ways which are more like magic and Fantasy, not SF, very unrealistic, badly researched and simply seems to be self indulgent and fashion.
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