Italy is one of my favorite places in the world to visit. It’s full of extraordinary cultural wonders. From its history and people to its art and architecture, not to mention all those singular locales like Venice, Florence, and the Cinque Terre. I could go on and on.
But for me, Italy’s most amazing cultural wonder is gelato.
My wife and I don’t let a day go by when we’re in Italy that we don’t eat gelato. Calories be damned. If you think gelato is just ice cream, you’ve clearly not been to Italy. And that’s just it. In the locovore mad, uber-foodie part of North Carolina where I live, there have been lots of places popping up that serve “gelato.” Don’t get me wrong. It’s good ice cream. But it’s not gelato. Or at least not the way I remember gelato tasting.
Do they do something different in Italy to make their gelato taste so much better than what’s called gelato here in the States? Or is it just how I experienced gelato on vacation in Italy, with all the other positive associations, that made it taste that good?
Some books are like this too. There are books I read in my childhood that I had fixed in my mind as absolutely amazing that when I read them again as an adult, I was disappointed. This is going to sound like blasphemy to some, but I was let down when I read Prince Caspian to my daughter this summer. She loved it! But I found myself getting impatient with all the long passages of description and endless walking through the woods. Somebody needed to tighten that story up!
Don’t get me wrong. I adore C.S. Lewis. Prince Caspian is still a classic with its own special narrative magic: seeing Narnia again thousands of years after the events of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the anticipation of when Trumpkin will realize who the Pevensie children really are, and the introduction of my all-time-favorite Narnian the fearless swashbuckling mouse Reepicheep. Overall however, the book was not nearly as great as I remembered it from my childhood.
As I’ve been reading books from my childhood to my daughter, I’m discovering which books are just as amazing all these years later and which books seem to have diminished now that I’m an adult reading them. The Neverending Story by Michael Ende…more inventive and emotionally riveting that I remembered. The original Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi…sort of preachy, meandering, and with some odd dark turns (Pinocchio smashes the talking cricket with a mallet within three pages of his character being introduced. Really!?).
Like gelato, sometimes it’s hard to know whether a book is really that great on its own or whether it is just a product of the time and place when you first enjoyed it. I’d love to know which beloved books from your childhood have held up and which ones have let you down.