2.15.2015

Readers who just don't quit

In my reading life, I have had to replace my copies of Jurassic Park and Good Omens because I read them to death. The spines were cracked. Pages were falling out. Every corner was dog-eared. At one point, I could quote whole sections of Good Omens from memory. My copies of The Poisonwood Bible and To Kill a Mockingbird aren't looking too healthy, either.

All this pales in comparison to Stephen Marche.

Marche recently wrote a terrific piece for The Guardian on his "centi-reading." I thought the title of the article was hyperbolic, but Marche really has read The Inimitable Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse and Hamlet more than 100 times each. Marche read Hamlet so many times because it was the subject of his thesis; The Inimitable Jeeves because it's his favorite book.

I admire the man. I miss re-reading my favorites, but I feel that there's just so much new stuff out there that I have to get to. Still, I made a resolution at the beginning of the year to re-read something from my collection each month. (I feel bad about them just sitting on the shelf.)

My re-reading doesn't even come close to approaching the level of re-reading that Marche does. The amazing thing about this is that, by re-reading a work so many times, you can hold the whole thing in your head. This is so valuable for writing about literature. In the class discussions I've been attending for a writing about literature class, we've tended to zero in on specific scenes or even pieces of dialog. The students forget about other passages and scenes that contradict their interpretations because they haven't read the book more than once or twice. (My colleague has read it three or four times by now, but I'm still at two readings.)

On the other hand, I can recall patrons the tiny public library I used to work for who would come in and fill up paper grocery bags with romance novels every week. They'd never re-read anything (that I knew about). Granted, romance novels aren't the best examples of books with high re-readability, but I know other people don't buy books because they don't re-read.

The reason I keep returning to Jurassic Park, Good Omens, The Poisonwood Bible, and To Kill a Mockingbird is because I always find something new each time through. The text remains the same, of course, but I'm different each time. Depending on what's been going on in my life or what I've been reading lately, I tune into issues of gender or ethics or education or something each time.

I'll leave you with this bon mot from the fabulously witty Oscar Wilde:
If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.

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