I purchased Francine Prose’s book, Reading like a Writer, at least eight years and three moves ago. I finally read it over the holidays, after having faithfully carted her book from Boston to San Francisco, via Chicago.
In Reading Like a Writer, Prose talks about how essential it is for writers to reread books. Prose herself rereads constantly. For her, the first reading reveals plot, and if she’s lucky, character. The second and third readings are when the narrative arc reveals itself and she begins to understand how the fictional world is held together. For Prose, rereading is when she really starts to appreciate how the best writers build their stories.
This struck me because with few exceptions, I stopped rereading when my daughter was born ten years ago. With so many great books out there and so little time to read, how could I justify taking time to reread a book I’d already finished?
My daughter doesn’t understand how I can’t. She discovers something new in the books she rereads with each and every telling. I suspect that in her case, it isn’t simply appreciating foreshadowing and other narrative tricks, but also that she herself is maturing at such an accelerated rate, she brings something new to the book/reader partnership with every reread.
In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet tells Mr. Darcy “People themselves alter so much, that there is something new to be observed in them for ever.”
I have read Pride and Prejudice so often that I can still quote passages from it, but the truth is it’s been years since I last spent an afternoon with it. Pride and Prejudice itself may not have changed over the last decade, but it’s possible that I have changed so much I don’t know quite what I will discover when I reread it.
Lately I’ve been wondering if I have been avoiding rereading Austen and my other favorite writers not to conserve time, but because I am frightened of the reflection of myself that I will find in those familiar pages. Am I too old to take pleasure in Austen’s commitment to marry off her characters whenever it is required? Too irritated by the constant barrage of bad news to find humor in P.G. Wodehouse’s silly tales of Bertie Wooster and his addle-pated friends in the Drones Club? Have I become too wrapped up in the logistics of my life to immerse myself in Hogwarts?
I suppose there’s really only one way to find out.
What about you? Do you reread your books? If so, how do you choose which ones to visit again?