One of my dear friends and fellow book-nuts holds a round-robin post each week. Every Wednesday on her group page, the question appears: What are You Reading Right Now? Everyone responds and it’s a good spot to exchange book news and compare thoughts but I don’t know how to tell them the truth: for each new book I’ve read, I’ve re-read at least 4 or 5 more. My question is: does that make me a nut?
A lot of people seem to espouse the “seen this, done that” philosophy. Each new day is a different challenge to accept; every vacation explores a different horizon. One very nice man I know dislikes seeing a movie more than once. For him, one viewing is sufficient and a lot more people seem to read books that way than watch movies. Does my re-reading mean that I’m slow?
On one level, I suppose the answer is “yes” but (ironically) it’s because I’m a fast reader. Put a well-paced, interesting book my hands and I’ll rip through the story like a tornado. I’ll pick up the plot and pursue it, scanning the pages faster and faster on a breakneck trip to the end. I’ve been reading that way for so long, I don’t think that pattern will break but on the first read I miss things. The fact is, writers spend a great deal of time, working out the balance of each paragraph and sentence and speed reading doesn’t give you the opportunity to savor the art that goes into each story. That kind of knowledge and appreciation only comes, in my case, through repetition. Some books, like To Kill a Mockingbird, yield fresh insights if you read it at different ages. At one age, it’s an indictment of institutionalized racism. On another, it’s a child’s eye view of an eccentric Southern world. Read it in a third age and you’ll see a love song to small-town life, with a clear-eyed view of its virtues and sins. All of those stories are there, but I didn’t see them at the same time. It took repeated re-readings.
The truth is I enjoy re-reading some books; it’s like visiting a long beloved friend after a long absence. One I have known the longest is The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame’s classic tale. As a child, I adored the adventures of Toad, that silly ADHD animal, and skipped non-Toad chapters to keep up with his story. (If any character in English Literature would benefit from Ritalin, it would be Toad) Now, Water Rat’s Integrity and Mole’s sweetness that capture my heart. At any rate, when I reopen those pages, it’s not to return to my childhood. It’s to experience a story again that clarified my perspective or enriched my soul.
So, I’ll continue to re-read, even as I search for new stories. Luckily, good books are like good friends; there’s always room in my heart to add new ones. It’s like the Girl Scouts song says:
Make new friends but keep the Old;
One is Silver and the Other’s Gold
May your bookshelves are laden with treasure.