“Since I sleep in the shadow of my to-read pile, it would feel dangerously irresponsible to read the same book twice” – Joe Dunthorne
Dear readers, I’m sitting here reflecting on that quote (and also wondering who Joe Dunthorne is), and finding myself agreeing with its sentiment but totally ignoring it in execution. The act of a rereading can be conflicting to a reader, but it is one I consider greatly when stuck in the doldrums of a tedious “new” read. Why am I wasting my eye sockets on this bland original work when I know that I can pick up something tried and true just as easy. I suppose it’s for the same reason I don’t just watch Die Hard 3 endlessly (perhaps that’s a bad example because as I’m thinking about it that sounds like something I could totally do). I guess what I’m saying is that while perfection is a wonderful thing in a book, the search for it is better, and nothing will recapture that.
I’ve been thinking about this topic since I read this piece in the Guardian, which in turn reminded me about this being covered in the NY Times previously. Some of my favorite authors are guilty of being notorious rereaders, yet they view it as a means of discovery. I decided to dive back into a book I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Now I’m a big LOTR fan, but Tolkien’s “prequel” has never meant as much to me. I had hoped rereading would kindle my interest in the upcoming film, while also reaffirming my adoration for the author. I immediately remembered what a quick and enjoyable read Tolkien can be, but why I had not had the urge to pick the book up again – it’s so trivial in the scope of the expansive story, and it doesn’t help that J.R.R doesn’t seem to be taking the world he has created seriously just yet.
“I decide to reread something I read 20 years ago and then give up because the original experience, presumed forgotten, turns out to have been mysteriously preserved, like a leaf between the pages.” – Geoff Dyer
Geoff Dyer, ladies and gentleman. A smart man. I didn’t want to wait 20 years to pick up Roberto Bolaño‘s 2666 again, as it has been pestering me since I finished it soon after its release in late 2008, so I just went for it. Ask me to name a favorite author and Bolaño is almost certain to be named straightaway near the top of the list. His ability to draw out a story that is at once experimental and almost rambling (his run-on sentences are legendary and inspiring), yet compact, is consistently engaging. A giant work like 2666 is like counter to what I enjoyed most about him previously, but because the book is divided into five parts that casually intersect, it never feels daunting. I pressed on, with optimism similar to Dyer’s, and remembered some things that are absolutely flawless about this work (Book one: “The Part About the Critics”, is especially strong in my opinion, and most relative to Bolaño’s other great work, The Savage Detectives), I ultimately ended up simply skimming through the rest of the work – something was lost from that original experience that I couldn’t recapture.
“I reread in order to remind myself how good you have to be in order to be any good at all.” – Edmund White
Now dear readers, don’t get the impression that rereading has been a poor experience for me as a result of these two prior examples. I actually came here to praise its value (I just seem to be not very effective). My main case in point is Michael Chabon. I make a point of rereading The Mysteries of Pittsburgh every year at the beginning of the summer, and have reread Wonder Boys on more than one occasion. I just finished The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and plan on taking the time to go over it again in the near future. The reason is just as Mr. White explained above. Whether you are a writer or a reader, one that is fond of literature knows what their threshold for quality is, and occasionally we need that reminder. Chabon is my shining example. Sometimes we need to pick up those books we hold high in our canon – serves right that I have read Vonnegut over and over, that Hemingway and Bukowski lend themselves to regular visits, and that the mere mention of East of Eden will have me itching to pick it up yet again.
Yet all of this has still led me to reading something new – or more definitively, the new collection of short stories by Jon McGregor, an author who I would have forgotten about had I not reread If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things after seeing passages copied into journals of mine. So perhaps reflection is a means of discovery after all.
What do you think, friends? Are there some books you can’t shake and have to revisit? Post below into comments for interactive fun!