Wednesday, January 17, 2018

On Rereading

If you're familiar with this blog, you've seen my reading list section, which names every book I've read since 2011. I've kept this record more for my own edification than anything, but I feel it can also serve as a jumping-off point for anyone searching for a tome to consume or interested in what a writer actually takes in (short answer: everything).

But my list took a nosedive in 2017. The number of books I read last year was considerably lower than it had been in the past--fewer than my usual goal of one book per week. On the one hand, it is true that I slacked off, partly due to changing circumstances but also thanks to a newfound inability to concentrate on anything for very long (thank you, depression, for making it difficult for me to focus). On the other hand, I also decided to take time in the final quarter of the year to re-read five books that mean something to me.

It started with Steve Almond, whose (Not That You Asked): Rants, Exploits, and Obsessions brightened my grad school days and which I wanted to revisit for its instructive wit and keen observation. His meditation on Kurt Vonnegut triggered in me a need to spend time with favorite novels of my own. So I went on to Robert Coover's Briar Rose, still a thrilling novella to behold some ten years after I first encountered it. The suffering lovers at the center of Coover's tale, of course, made me think of Thomas Hardy's exquisitely painful plots, so The Return of the Native called out to me. 

It was also October, though, and with Halloween upon the doorstep, I put Hardy on hold to tackle House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski's intricate tale of fractured humans and the things that haunt them. After that, it was back to Hardy, and then of course I had to round out the season with Fahrenheit 451, my long-standing favorite.

I could have gone on, poring over other novels that have influenced me along the way. In fact, I have no doubt I could make an entire career of living inside fictional worlds I've already encountered. More than likely, I will halt my new-to-me progress again this year to re-read more old loves.

Because it only feels right. In spite of the march of progress and the never-ending supply of new material (as well as my bad habit of going on book-buying binges), I feel I owe it to myself--and the novels, in a way--to look back. After all, what is the point of saying something like, "Oh, yes: The Bell Jar had a profound effect on my writing" if the details of that book are getting hazy and I can no longer cite specific moments that set me on fire? And anyway, re-reading gives you that same feeling you get when you go home for the holidays: relief, comfort, and anticipation of the good things ahead. (Side note: if this isn't how you feel about going home for the holidays, you have my sympathies, and also my permission to insert your own analogy here.)

As for what I re-read this time around, I can say the following:

- I relate to the characters in The Return of the Native better now than I did when I was 17, which made this a richer reading experience for me.
- Although House of Leaves didn't scare me this time (it terrified me as a 16-year-old), it still caught my attention and left me wanting the next page.
- Steve Almond is bae just as much today as he was when I first saw him in Cambridge, MA in 2011.
- Coover's work is every bit as magical as I remember.
- Fahrenheit still feels like my forever book, and I hope that never changes.

And I'm curious to know: what books do you like to re-read? Tell me in the comments. 


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