Re-reading has understandably become a big deal to me this year. It comes up at cocktail parties and in every day conversations. Actively re-reading a certain subset of books that have been important to me has changed how I think of books I’m reading now for the first time. And also helping me decide which books I really want to read. I think it’s helping me be a bit more selective.
So here are some spots where it has come up in articles I’ve read recently.
In a March article, Hephzibah Anderson writes about re-reading as the ultimate guilty pleasure while reviewing two books about re-reading particular titles: My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead and How to Be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis. Here’s one line that particularly struck me, as I’ve moved into the second half of my Re-Reading Project”
“…though the words on the page stay the same, our readings of them change.”
Truly. It’s been a really fascinating thing to contemplate, how my readings of these books compare to my memories of them.
And this entire paragraph resonated deeply with me:
For children, it’s a comfort. As we become accustomed to a world in which change is the only real constant, the familiarity of the book at bedtime is something to cling to. Adults aren’t immune to those feelings, either. To quote the septuagenarian writer Larry McMurtry: “If I once read for adventure, I now read for security. How nice to be able to return to what won’t change.”
In the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly, Tina Jordan has a rather sad essay about re-reading one of her favorite books, The Mists of Avalon, in light of the allegations that Marion Zimmer Bradley committed sexual abuse, from the author’s daughter. As Jordan mentions, the author died in 1999 and can’t defend herself, but there seems to be a lot of evidence that something unsavory happened. Jordan re-read The Mists of Avalon, intentionally trying to discover if she could divorce this new information about the author from the experience of reading the book. It turned out she couldn’t.
“Reading Bradley’s work through this new filter made me queasy — and I won’t be doing it again.”
I’ve been wanting to re-read Bradley’s The Firebrand, which was a book I really loved in my teens. I even considered it for this project, but I read it one year too late for my “under 16” stipulation. Who knows if I will ever re-read it now, or if I will be able to “forget” about the allegations about the author and enjoy the story? Who knows what the adult me would’ve thought of it without the knowledge of these allegations?
As a writer myself, this is a tough question. Who I am as a person, what I think and what I do, are all utterly a part of who I am as an artist. But I think it would be possible to not like me as a person and still appreciate my writing. It’s an interesting thing to contemplate since I’m both a novelist and now, a memorist.
Well, as I was searching for a link to Jones’ essay (it’s not live yet, probably next week), I found a happier re-reading essay from her, about re-reading the Harry Potter series over the summer of 2011, which is something I’ve tried to do every year. Enjoy.