The Art of the Re-Read by Nick Abrahamson

Here in libraryland I have several coworkers who won’t re-read favorite novels.  Some won’t re-watch favorite movies.  I am utterly perplexed by this non-practice.  Aside from a familiar smell or visiting the home of my childhood, nothing fills me with the warmest of warm nostalgia like some of the old movies I watched as a child.  My most vivid memories involve being propped on the couch, home sick from school, while I listen to the whirl of the VCR rewinding videotapes.  Like a jet engine about to take off, that sound immediately stirs the best, sappiest childhood memories I have.  If the Smashing Pumpkins hadn’t already canned nostalgia in Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, I’d be working in the lab to invent it myself. 

Books are a little trickier.  Many novels are marvels of characterization and are so complex, intricate and detailed they make rereading a novel more beneficial and pleasurable than an experience based solely on a trip back in time.  There are several books that I find myself revisiting and I find something new in all of them.  When I revisited Lord of the Rings for the first time I marveled at the exquisite import and rich detail given to Tom Bombadil.  Tom was omitted from Peter Jackson’s acclaimed film adaptations, but the novel renders him a mysterious character that supersedes the historical fabric of Middle Earth.  He is an enigma whom Tolkien purposefully veils in myth within the trilogy.  Another novel I’m repeatedly drawn back to is McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.  I just finished this for the fourth time and I’m still left with questions.  In all of western literature, you’d be hard pressed to find a character as otherworldly, sinister, arcane, and indelible as Judge Holden.  The man may be the devil or evil incarnate.  But he is so richly written and such a fascinating part of the novel that after several rereads I still have questions.  Questions about some of the choices he makes and his motivations. 

I’m sure I’ll find other great books to revisit.  I’m not sure what the purpose of owning a book collection is if you don’t plan to revisit some of your favorites.  Sure, it impresses visitors, but there’s much more to make of a well stocked bookcase than showing off.  Whether it be revisiting an old friend and fonder memories or because there’s always more to learn, go ahead and give your old favorite a whirl.

 

Comments

I re-read for my bedtime reading -- that way if I fall asleep in the middle of a paragraph I'm not too worried about. New books -- I'll stay up all night if it's really great nad that is NOT a good thing on a Tuesday!

I find that if I liked a book the first time I almost always get even more out of it the second time.  However, I'm always reluctant to re-read, figuring I only have so many years and there are so many books!  But every time I've read a book a second time I've found it to be richly rewarding.  I must admit that the primary reason I have reread a book is to discuss it with a book group. 

I typically don't reread unless I'm doing it for a book club or a library program. I find that when I do reread a favorite, I'm always worried that it might not live up to my memory of it. When it does, though, it's so rewarding. Books that were even better in rereading: Love Medicine, Bless Me Ultima, Pride and Prejudice, Atonement, and Life of Pi (just off the top of my head).