Friday, June 5, 2009

Re-Reading Is Remembering Who You Were

I've had a few books with me for a long time. Like twenty years. It was suggested to me once that keeping books around for a long time was a form of intellectual vanity. I'm certainly not a pack rat, so that is a reasonable charge. But even though I clean out my bookshelf every six months or so, there are a few books I can't imagine giving up, even though I bought them at second-hand stores a couple of decades ago and they are dog-eared from my own use and from that of the clearly foolish person who chose to give them up.

I don't keep these five or so to impress anyone. It's just that I need to re-read them every two or three years, not because I've forgotten how the story ends, but because my own reaction to them--different from before, sometimes subtly, sometimes markedly--gives me a sense of how I've grown. More importantly, it helps me remember the person I was long ago. When I bought my cherished copy of Democracy, by Joan Didion, I was in a musty bookshop in Fayetteville, Arkansas, on a hot and sleepy afternoon. The clerk was listening to the local NPR affiliate. I was with a boy I'd met in Brindisi, Italy. I had just married him, rather impetuously, and was navigating my way through a visit with my new mother-in-law. In retrospect, I am not sure if it was young love or the power of Didion's language that allowed me to get through that trip. But I still love the book.

Last week my friend Cathy sent me a link to an opinion piece about the joys of re-reading. I was rather sheepish about the fact that tears sprung to my eyes when I read it, but when I sent her a note of thanks, she confessed to rather welling up herself. That, and that she thought to send it, is one of the reasons our friendship has endured for more than a decade. The author's reading list is miles more impressive than mine, but the sentiments are the same.

Click below to see if you are reader at heart:

Thoughts on Re-Reading

1 comment:

  1. I am a pack rat.
    I inherited that from my mother.
    Consistent with that tendency, I am always reluctant to part with books.
    Accordingly, I have, on my shelves, a good collection of books that I have read.
    I haven't been much of a re-reader, though.
    One book I reread was Catcher in the Rye.
    I read it at 15 and it didn't do much for me. It was just a story.
    Over the next fifteen years, I came to learn that the book was highly regarded, so I went back to it and read it again.
    I got it.
    I was a pretty naive and optimistic 15-year-old.
    Holden's attitude meant nothing to me the first time around.
    15 more years of perspective improved the book immeasurably.