Thursday, October 05, 2006
Open forum: re-reading!
The other night, in the midst of my ceaseless toil blogging on behalf of all you ungrateful little guttersnipes, I took a brief half-hour's respite by dipping into Pepys.
The half hour grew to two hours before I even thought to look up at the clock, so subsumed was I in the hustling world of Pepys, in the squirrel-rushings of his thoughts, in the marvelous portrait he paints of his whole world, shifting with his inimitable idiosyncrasy from the most mundane details of daily life to the most important goings-on of court and country ... and all of it told with that chatty, totally human voice. Two hours fled like a snatch of dream.
And it got me wondering, as I so often do, about the whole act of re-reading books. A sizeable portion of all the reading I do is re-reading, and yet I've never been able to quite define what it is we DO when we re-read a book.
Some books are so complex and crammed that re-reading is virtually a necessary componant of enjoying them at all. Who entirely grasps Tale of Genji the first time through, or Vanity Fair, or Gravity's Rainbow? And certainly five or ten years between readings brings a very different US to the books we read once before - allusions that went over our heads the first time are now caught and savored.
But what about those books we re-read not only once but repeatedly? Further understanding a book you read once before makes perfect sense ... but how to explain re-reading a book you not only understand completely but quite often know virtually by heart? What's going on, when we're doing that?
I have a regular stable of authors I revisit in this way. Pepys. Chaucer. Ariosto. Kipling. Arthur Conan Doyle. Wodehouse. Herodotus. And of course more than any of them Horace. Almost every serious reader I've ever met has a comparable list, often broken up into specific needs, like we were talking about medicines in a cabinet ('so and so when I'm depressed, so and so when I need to forget the world,' etc).
So I'm opening the question to the assembled hordes of stevereads fans, especially the die-hard readers out there! How do YOU explain this thing we all do, this thing that after enough times can't really be called 'reading' in the normal sense of the word? Is it the intersection of reading and religion, or is it just creepy and compulsive?
And, of course: give me YOUR perennial authors/books. I know some for some of you but not all for all, so feel free to list 'em all!