You Can’t Go Home Again

A friend sent me a text asking if I’d ever read the science fiction classic ‘The Mote in God’s Eye’ by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. I know I read it back when I was reading more science fiction, but the only thing I remembered about the book was the lovely title. ‘The Mote in God’s Eye’ is memorable.

My friend said he was surprised by the “rampant sexism” and that characters seemed amazed whenever a woman proved capable of anything. We exchanged a few texts about how things have changed—or not changed—in the 42 years since the book was published. Forty-two years may seem like a lot, but it is the definition of a MOTE (the tiniest speck) of time in the larger scheme of things.

His experience reminded me of reading ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ in a book club a while back. The classic annoyed me. Everything that had made it important to generations of adolescents, made it irritating to me as an adult.

As Thomas Wolfe wrote, “You Can’t Go Home Again.”

We change and our responses to art change, too. It’s natural and normal, but it makes for some odd reunions with old literary friends. The character with whom you identify seems petty (or silly or selfish or worse). The romantic seduction that once swept you away rings false or wreaks of manipulation, when you read it a second time, after more experience with love. Even the epic quest that once inspired you can seem self-indulgent when it’s revisited.

The only thing that’s worse than not having a new response is having the same exact feelings years, or decades, later. Because that means you’re stuck and haven’t grown or changed in the intervening time. You really can’t go home again, but you can travel to new versions of those literary places. Or, you can simply let the memory remain and move on.

Books at The Morgan Library in New York City.

Books at The Morgan Library in New York City.


  1. lol – I always hated Catcher in the Rye and I can’t remember what happened in Mote either, although like you, I remember that brilliant title. However, I’m not sure I completely agree with you about ‘going home’ to favourite books. I’ve been going home to Dune, LHOD, Lord of the Rings, and Cyteen amongst others about once a decade.

    That seems to be long enough for my ageing brain to forget all but the most important details. Thus I can revisit these favourite places and be delighted all over again by how wonderful they are.

    • Candy Korman

      As long as Dune, et al continue to delight you than rereading is a great thing!

      I’m betting that, forgetting the minor plot points aside, your pleasure in the rereading is DIFFERENT and that it’s not exactly a return visit, so much as a return visit as the new you. When the destination—the book—offers the new you something new, valuable, fascinating… than it’s like a new place for the new version of you. The problem about going home lies only in the expectation that you will see the book (or other work of art) the same way.

      I’ve had some great art experiences in discovering that I’ve changed and that works of art that did not speak to me before are talking now. I never “got” Jackson Pollack and now I’m enchanted and intrigued. I’ve also had that icky experience of finding that returning to the book, painting, play, movie that meant a great deal at one point in my life, leaves me feeling flat with the return visit.

      You can sort of go home again, but you are not the same person as you were before so you will not have the same experience. My late father reread The Great Gatsby every couple of years. As he grew older, I like to think that he saw the characters in a deeper and more nuanced fashion than he did when he first read it as a teenager. I know that his perspective on life changed and changed and changed… and he LOVED each return visit to Fitzgerald’s masterpiece.