Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Reading and Rereading

In the foreword to Rereadings: Seventeen Writers Revisit Books They Love, Anne Fadiman reflects on the differences between reading and rereading:

And there lay the essential differences between reading and rereading, acts that Henry and I were performing simultaneously. The former had more velocity; the latter had more depth. The former shut out the world in order to focus on the story; the latter dragged in the world in order to assess the story. The former was more fun; the latter was more cynical. But what was remarkable about the latter was that it contained the former: even while, as with the upper half of a set of bifocals, I saw the book through the complicating lens of adulthood, I also saw it through the memory of the first time I’d read it…

This passage flows from Fadiman’s experience of reading a childhood favourite, C.S. Lewis’s A Horse and His Boy, to her eight-year-old son Henry, and the distinctions that she draws here don’t necessarily hold for rereading other sorts of books in other contexts. Nevertheless, the passage got me thinking about my own rereadings and wondering about those of others.

Are you a rereader? Which books do you reread? If you reread childhood favourites, which ones hold up in adulthood for you? Are there books that meant a lot to you once that you’re reluctant to revisit for fear of spoiling the magic?

8 comments:

martha said...

I reread rarely, but there are books I return to over and over. And children's books, for some reason, are the ones I most often reread. A particular favorite is The Dark is Rising, by Susan Cooper; another is the Hero and the Crown, by Robin McKinley. As for adult books, I read the Ghost Road, by Pat Barker, and immediately sat down and read it again. Others I revisit include Neuromancer, by William Gibson; Silence, by Shusaku Endo; anything by Jane Austen; And I'm thinking of launching into a reread of Cryptonomicon, and something by Thomas Hardy. I liked the author's description of what a reread entails. I often have a very different take on a book the second time around.

Booklad said...

Wonderful quote from Fadiman's book. I'm preparing to review her excellent "Ex-Libris" and I see I'll be buying this book as well. I re-read a great deal and I agree with your her comments. LeGuin, Dick, Tolstoy, Kafka, Howard are some of the authors I re-read. However, the author I re-read every year is Tolkien. I've read LOTR at least 20 times, frequently in sequence with The Silmarillion and The Hobbit. Why? Because I think Tolkien's work is such an act of creative genius and because his story moves me deeply. I've found that the book changes as I have grown older (I'm now 50), probably due to my own changing concerns. The one aspect of Tolkien that remains during every reading is his extraordinary love of nature. I finish re-reading his books and suddenly the trees become more alive and important.

I wish more people would re-read their favorite books. We are so programmed to consume that we forget that some works of art only reveal themselves slowly and have to be coaxed.

Ella said...

Whenever my blood pressure gets too high I reread one of the 20-odd Three Investigators mysteries that I've kept since my childhood. Something about the characters and their scenery is so familiar and comforting, it helps me de-stress right away.

I also re-read Agatha Christie, especially her short stories, and PG Wodehouse. And Dorothy Dunnett, because you always find something new on re-reads.

great post!

Walker said...

Fascinating questions really because I suppose re-reading habits can be quite eccentric. Like Martha, I re-read rarely, but when I do, it's generally to immerse myself in the tone of prose I first enjoyed a long time ago: Like Wuthering Heights, The Picture of Dorian Gray...and hmmm....The Maltese Falcon. This really is a tone thing.

Having said that, I re-read plays, short-stories and poems all the time. In fact, I can sit staring at the lines of a particularly beautiful short poem for hours...and hardly notice a minute go by.

Jenny D said...

I reread a lot, but also find myself most prone to reread children's books--in fact exactly the ones Martha mentions, Robin McKinley's and Susan Cooper's (among any number of others). And Austen, too, sometimes for work but also for pleasure. Some books seem to me to call out for rereading: Trollope's Barsetshire novels, the novels of Dorothy L. Sayers, etc. etc. I suppose in each case it is a world we want to reenter; I love very dark noir fiction with lots of violence, but am rather less likely to reread it than something a bit more obviously attractive and less like real life in the world it represents....

Writing and Living said...

I have always been a rereader. Any book that I really enjoy is a possible reread. It usually starts by my remembering a passage I enjoyed, going to find it, and then I wind up reading the whole book again.

I find that I reread less as I get older; I'm realizing that I probably won't finish all the books I want to before I die.

Lee said...

I reread just about everything I bother to finish, usually immediately, in order to understand it better, to savour what I've enjoyed or appreciated. And at the same time I'm trying to reread many of the 'classics' that I originally read because I had to or thought I should - amazing how much I'm finding, or not!

That said, I'm saddened by the sheer number of books I'll never get to read.

Brenda Schmidt said...

I reread poetry collections many times, but rarely fiction. I've held onto several novels with the intention of reading them again, not for the joy, but with the hope that I can figure out what makes them work so well.