Helen DeWitt, at a reporter’s prompting, lists some of the books she most likes to return to:
Rereading is important for writers because people in the publishing industry constantly give advice couched in terms of helping the reader. If you are not only a reader, or even a rereader, but a rerererererererererereader, you know this is complete bollocks. “The” reader does not exist. The 9-year-old who read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe 50 times in a year is genetically identical to the 54-year-old who has read Invisible Cities more times than she can count (if certainly not 50). The 16-year-old who read Pride and Prejudice as historical romance (I know Austen was forbidden, but really) is genetically identical to the 54-year-old who reads it for its social analysis, its savagery. (The 16-year-old would have had no interest in Goffman or Bourdieu; the 54-year-old sees Austen as their intellectual cousin.) As a rereader you can’t be an amnesiac: you KNOW there were books you loved and outgrew, books you hated first time, admired 20 years later.
I don’t get to return to books as much as I’d like, but one of the most enjoyable reading experiences I had last year was revisiting Edward P. Jones’ two short story collections, this time reading them in parallel since the stories “talk” to each other. (That is, the first story in Lost in the City shares characters with the first story in All Aunt Hagar’s Children, and so forth.) I recall enjoying Wendy Lesser‘s book on the subject, Nothing Remains the Same, though it’s been a decade since I’ve read it and I owe it another visit.
4 thoughts on “Loved and Outgrew, Hated and Admired Later”
I so want to reread books, but I keep on buying new books that pile up next to my bed and I can never seem to have the time to reread and my “to read” list gets longer. Although there is one book I reread “By The River Piedra I sat Down and Wept” by Paulo Coelho. First of all, it’s short and its doable in a few hours time. Also, I love it!
Trollope, so neglected! If not The Way We Live Now, then any of the novels with the startlingly lifelike and modern marriage of Lady Glencora and her very quiet husband. Trollope’s verbal density is off-putting to the young, but it’s a small price to pay for the way he lets us see the truth unfold.
I can’t count how many times I’ve read Johnny Tremain (Esther Forbes) and Great Expectations (Charles Dickens). Such treasures.
I honestly cannot recall how many books I have read and then reread time and again over the years. There are simply too many to count; let alone name. What I can recall with perfect clarity, however; is that every reread was just as enjoyable and informative as the first read, and this remains true no matter how many times I reread. Now I am by no means an author, not even close (Registered Nurse who just truly loves to read, actually), but I believe that to any true lover of literature, which I assume any good author would have to be, rereading is just too pleasurable to resist. (And really, unless it was one of those reads that felt like a chore to finish the first time around, why would you even try to resist?). By the way, Pride and Prejudice is also one of my favorites to reread, and even after all these years, I still find that I learn something new or notice something that I hadn’t before, every time I revisit it.