Re-readings

On the way into work today, my amazingly erudite husband (he made me say that) and I talked about the phenomenon of rereading. I find it fascinating to chart the different stages I have gone through (and continue to go through) as a reader. An earlier stage was one in which my relationship to literature was defined solely by plot, and I often had a hard time rereading stories (I actually couldn’t bring myself to do it) because I already knew what happened, and thus could not be interested in taking a second look. But after going to an author event where Wendy Lesser described her changing relationships with certain novels (especially Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina), I began to rethink this problem of mine. For example, I would love to reread Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. The first time I approached this novel I was a freshman in college, sitting in a classroom of juniors and seniors discussing Russian literature. I couldn’t wait for the novel to end (in fact, I’m pretty sure I skipped the last few chapters because I was fed up pretty early on). Now I think I would have a greater appreciation for the psychological torments Raskolnikov was going through (although, my ability to relate to Raskolnikov is, perhaps, qualified by the fact that I cannot understand the torment specifically brought on by killing a person with an ax). I would also like to reread War and Peace–I first approached it because I had to: I wrote about it for my senior honor’s thesis (which will hopefully remain buried in my memory and filing cabinet, nevermore to see the light of day). How would I relate to it now, after my reading abilities have improved (at least I hope) over time? Which characters would I empathize with? Would I still be angry with the way Tolstoy handled Natasha’s character at the end?

I also find it interesting that I don’t seem to have the same problem reviewing movies. Even when I know the outcome of a mystery, I can (and frequently do to my husband’s chagrin) endlessly watch Poirot and Miss Marple (or Murder She Wrote). Once I know who the killer is, I love to look at the films with fresh eyes, to pick up those clues I missed at first viewing. Why shouldn’t reading be the same? Perhaps I should start a reading journal–noting down the context within which I first approached the book(s), so that at a future date I can go back and see how I felt, what I thought, laugh heartily at my naivete and then see what another time around does for me. (Note: this could also just be another petty attempt to find an excuse for buying another pretty journal–I have a love relationship with paper that is only matched by my husband’s love for pens–we make a good team, although going on a date to an office supply store may be a new low in pathetic-ness).

Of course, the real problem is: if I haven’t read half of the books on my shelves, how in the world can I justify going back to those I’ve already read? Perhaps I should just skirt the issue altogether by buying Anne Fadiman’s collection of essays Rereadings, in which different authors describe their second/third/nth experiences with various books they loved (I thoroughly enjoyed Fadiman’s book Ex Libris as well). That way I can live vicariously through others by reading a “new” book about people reading “old” ones, while managing to completely disregard the bookfort that is growing in my office (I’ve managed to surround my desk with piles of books–if anyone attacks, I’m well fortified–at least, I am until the cats knock the piles down in their efforts to wrestle with one another). Perhaps it’s time for an intervention?

Here’s a very preliminary list o’books that I would like to reread:

  1. War and Peace (loved it)
  2. Anna Karenina (loved it)
  3. The Master and Margarita (one of my all-time favorites)
  4. Doctor Zhivago (loved it)
  5. Crime and Punishment (didn’t finish the last chapter)
  6. Madame Bovary (I think I liked it, I can’t remember)
  7. A Tale of Two Cities (loved it)
  8. All of Agatha Christie (I am particularly interested in her descriptions of foreigners in Europe on the brink of WWII)
  9. Great Expectations (I remember disliking it intensely as a high school student)
  10. The Scarlet Letter (liked it–I’ll get to it this semester)

Any books you would particularly like to revisit?

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Clair on February 22, 2007 at 3:03 pm

    I routinely read “Tale of Two Cities,” usually about once a year. I always something different out of it. But when I went looking for it in December, it was missing. Buried somewhere in the boxes that haven’t yet been fully unpacked. Tragedy!

    Reply

  2. Posted by Danielle on February 22, 2007 at 11:01 pm

    I loved Anne Fadiman’s book Ex Libris, too. I have Rereadings also. I have certain books I like to reread, but they are more contemporary novels. I did recently reread Jane Eyre and liked it more the second time around. I am reading W&P and have already decided that it is deserving of a second reading. I think some books really should be reread. I missed a lot of classics when I was younger-I read lots but only contemporary stuff (and probably mostly junk) so it is weird approaching some books for the first time when others read it when they were in school. I think I probablu appreciate some books more as an adult than I would have as a teen.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Sarah on February 23, 2007 at 9:57 am

    I definitely agree that War and Peace needs a re-reading (I’m holding out for the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation, although I have multiple versions at home). I had to rush through it in college so I could write about it, and I would like to take my time and relax with it. And winter is such an appropriate time for a Russian novel!

    Reply

  4. Posted by booklogged on February 23, 2007 at 11:56 pm

    I would like to read The Poisonwood Bible again. And I also would like to read W&P for the first time. In fact there are several on your reread list that I need to read for the first time.

    Reply

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