V. The Power and Comfort of Rereading
'm always fascinated when I listen to literary scholars talk about important literature or their favorite books. In most cases they seem to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the work whereas I can't even remember very many characters or plot lines beyond the last three or four books I've read. OK, I realize not every novel is equal to a classic like Huckleberry Finn or Moby Dick, but there is just so much information to cram in one's mind nowadays that it's very difficult to keep even your favorite fiction straight. One way that helps me to have a more memorable experience with a novel is to write about it. There is something about the act of putting the words down on paper or into cyberspace that lodges story and character into that gray matter between your ears.
However, the only genuine way, I believe, to sustain a vicarious relationship with one's favorite imaginary individuals and the invented worlds they inhabit is to reread their respective books, something I have seldom done. My big rereads have been: The Grapes of Wrath (three times), The Catcher in the Rye (twice), and Ulysses (twice but one was on audio). An efficient way to do this, I've discovered, is by audio book. Currently, I have Faulkner's Light in August queued up on my ipod. I read this one back in my early twenties when at the time it subsequently became one of my literary darlings. Now I have only a vague memory of the story of Joe Christmas; it's time for a refresher.
It is also time to make "rereading" a regular habit. Sure, it's a great excuse when spotted with a classic everyone read in high school like Oliver Twist or The Great Gatsby.
"You've never read that?"
"Oh no, I'm rereading it for a book club"
But committing to revisiting worthwhile narratives seems to suddenly make so much more sense to me. Could it be age? Yes, of course, there is that accumulated knowledge that comes over the years that will color Vonnegut's Billy Pilgrim or Lawrence's Paul Morel with a deeper shade of perception. Could it be a hunger for meaning? Well I guess that comes with age and the realization that many of the author's you read when you were young were more perceptive than you once thought. Or maybe it's simply that there is something comforting about going back to your favorites.
So, I hereby pledge to make rereading a staple of my bibliophilic behavior out of that simple desire for philosophical coherence; for an alternate interpretation through the unique perspective of acquired experience; for a more powerful and profound understanding of life. Besides, I don't mind resigning myself to some bookish comfort every now and again.