A few weeks ago author and fellow blogger Ross Murray mentioned to me that he had been rereading some books and what an interesting experience that was. So I asked him if he would write something about rereading books for my blog, and he graciously did.
I loved what he wrote so much that I immediately reread it.
I know you’ll love it too. Here is his piece:
“Read and repeat”
We cling to our old books for many reasons. Sometimes they serve as placeholders for times in our lives – my Tom Robbins novels, for example, recall my faux-hippie days in Montreal before I went off Robbins. Just. Like. That.
Sometimes we keep our books to share with others, or maybe simply because they make us feel sophisticated. (“I’m not a hoarder; I’m a reader.”)
But often we keep books because we think we might re-read them some day – when we have time, and who has time, especially when books are such a commitment, not to mention the unrelenting ocean of new book after new book? Books are long, life is short.
More and more, though, I’ve been reading the old books on my shelf. It’s a lot like calling up an old girlfriend and saying, “Remember that love we shared?” Except it’s not exactly love as I pull out The Power and the Glory. It’s nostalgia.
The older I get, the more I feel nostalgia’s force. In many ways, nostalgia fills the space abandoned by youthful, passionate love, retaining love’s sense of longing and rose-colored optimism, but, unlike love, you always know the outcome with nostalgia. Why take a chance on a potentially disappointing new bestseller when you can revisit Barney’s Version, a relationship you know ended well?
Nostalgic reading seems like a sure bet. But, like calling up that old flame, the results can be unpredictable.
On the one hand, I recently re-read A Room With a View. I first read it in my twenties and remember enjoying the Edwardian comedy of manners and romance. But I had forgotten how outright funny E. M. Forster could be. Did I miss that the first time? Or am I simply more attuned to satire thanks to age and experience? Either way, what a great joy to return to this book. We should go out again sometime. Call you in 15 years or so…?
On the other hand, there’s Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry. I recalled finding this difficult book profound when I read it at the precocious age of 18, an impression underlined by, well, underlining. My copy is extensively highlighted, as if there were some prize for spotting the symbolism. And, boy, is there symbolism! Emphatically so. There is much beautiful writing (“I have no house, only a shadow. But whenever you are in need of a shadow, my shadow is yours.”) but the meandering, über-earnest stream-of-consciousness dragged me down into the abyss.
When I was young, did I take more pleasure in dissecting difficult prose? Was I more patient? Could I concentrate better? Should I not have been engaging in games of iPad Scrabble while re-reading this? Or am I simply more inclined these days to read for pleasure – but not for pleasure alone, if you see the difference. (If you don’t, read Winter’s Tale by Mark Halprin, an intricate but beautiful piece of magic.)
As exes go, Under the Volcano is the one you’re relieved you didn’t end up with because, well, that book is just a little bit crazy. And you’re too old for crazy.
Then there are books I know I liked but have completely forgotten. I recently re-read two classics: Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird. Other than the barest outline, I didn’t remember them at all (and I had never seen the movies). So really, these were like first dates with that girl I sat next to in Chemistry class. Nice girl, pretty. What was her name again…?
Yet how could I have invested time in these books – classics at that – and have virtually no memory of them? Perhaps I charged through them with my lifelong habit of equating books with accomplishment. It goes back to the ocean of books that is forever crashing over us. Read, done, finished! Back to the library, shoved on the shelf, on to the next. No wonder our nostalgia is so inaccurate.
Abandoned exes. Revisionist old flames. Fondly forgotten friends. They’re all on my bookshelf. But there are true loves also. A Passage to India, Slaughterhouse Five, High Fidelity, Memoirs of Montparnasse – books I’ve come back to more than once. Aside from our literary flings, we all have intimate books like this, the ones we’re married to, the ones that give so generously in the relationship, books that ask nothing in return but a visit once a decade or so. When we have time.
What’s on your bookshelf that you hope to read again someday?
To read more by Ross Murray, check out his wonderful blog here: Drinking Tips for Teens