Saturday, January 12, 2013

A Word on Re-Reads

"I maintain that reading and rereading is kind of like listening to favorite music that you haven’t picked up in a while—you’ll find all sort of things that you never noticed, but more than anything, you’ll remember yourself when you first listened to it. It often works better than pure recollection, looking back on who you were the last time you read a certain book." -Emily Asher-Perrin,

I found this quote while reading one of Tor's many series, Magic and Good Madness: A Neil Gaiman Reread, specifically the American Gods portion. I loved reading through staff writers Bridget McGovern and Asher-Perrin's thoughts on the book (one of my favorites), seeing what elements and references jumped out to them, learning more about dozens of deities, and getting glimpses into the story I never would have seen on my own. It made me want to reread this book in a more... not serious, but maybe more curious, focused way- like the reading done in the best literature classes. I might even be tempted to start taking notes in my copy of the book. (The horror, I know!! Don't worry, I'm pretty sure I've got a spare).

I really agree with the quote above. I think there is much to be gained from multiple readings, both in terms of gaining a deeper understanding of the work and in terms of reliving great reading experiences on a more personal level, like listening to a well-loved album. I'm pretty sure that I'll be rereading things like The Hobbit, Pride & Prejudice, Outlander and Stardust for the rest of my life.

On a weird other hand, there are some things I am reluctant to reread for various reasons. Reading the last two Sandman books (again, thanks a lot Gaiman) wrecked my emotional high-school self to an embarrassing and slightly scary degree. The next year I read 1984 and felt like I was along for the ride in a more real and terrifying way than ever before. I loved. it but I'm not in a hurry to relive the soul-numbing dread of that ending anytime soon.

Reading The Compleat Moonshadow by J.M. DeMatteis was another raw teenage read that really got to me in the best and most powerful ways. It follows pretty much the entire life of Moonshadow Birnbaum, "born to a Brooklyn hippie, raised in an intergalactic zoo, and ejected at age 14 into a harsh, uncaring cosmos, is collected in this mammoth volume. Accompanied only by a grouchy alien furball, Moonshadow must confront issues of love, death, sex, and war on an odyssey through distant world and spiritual spheres." Maybe because this was one of the first graphic novels I read, maybe because it was so, so honest and emotional, I genuinely felt like I was experiencing everything through Moonshadow's eyes. When he hurt, I hurt. When he stood in wonder at the beauty of the cosmos or wept at the unfairness of the universe, I did the same. (Actually, I think this kind of predicted my obsession love affair with Doctor Who... huh...) 

Despite being one of the most profound reading experiences of my life, it's one I'm leery of repeating. Part of my brain tries to tell me that I'm just worried I'll be let down the second time around, that it can't have been so great. The rest of me knows better. I knew when I was reading it that this would be a slightly different book depending on the age of the person reading it, that when I reread it, it wouldn't be quite the same book because I wouldn't be quite the same person. I'm not sure I'm quite ready for that.

What books do you consider to be old friends? Do you feel the need to re-read The Great Gatsby to see if your English teacher was onto something after all, or to get ready for the Baz Luhrman spectacular? Are there any books that you don't want to re-read? 


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