I have been racking my brains to choose between one of the two choices – Should I read new books or should I re-read ones that meant something to me in the past? I think that while reading a new book is obviously a rewarding experience in terms of learning something entirely new to you, re-reading a book can make you really “absorb” the book more and retain it for longer.
I have been reading new books consistently in the last few months with very few books that are re-reads. This has mostly to do with the fact that I am overwhelmed with the amount of books there are and the enormous mountain that keeps growing at an explosive rate. There is SO MUCH to be read – classics, modern books, contemporary fiction, books on specific relevant (and irrelevant) themes, fantasy, children’s books, translated books; there is no end to them. New and mind blowing books keep popping up, whether be it on the Man Booker shortlist or the Baileys prize shortlist or the Orange prize or the Hugo Prize. This wealth of amazing new books can make the amount of time spent on each re-read felt like a reduction in the amount of time you could have spent reading one of these new books. A new book read is a book lesser from the giant mountain. A new book read is a new adventure into an unknown world. A new book read is a new trove of information unlocked. I want to read books by Graham Greene, Muriel Spark, Angela Thirkell, Victor Hugo, Thomas Hardy.. the list of unexplored authors is enormous. There are more books I want to read than I can read in a lifetime. But I also want to remember.
I know that when I read it, I loved Villette by Charlotte Bronte and I could have discussed it passionately with anyone I met. Did you read that line? Did you see how powerfully she managed to set up such a scene? Didn’t that atmospheric detail send a shiver down your spine before she even said anything? Didn’t you wholeheartedly relate to this little gem of elusive truth? Months later, I know it is a wonderful book and I loved it but I can’t point my finger on why exactly and I can’t discuss it in such detail any longer. I do not remember. The book is a literary fiction book – not a lot “happens” in it, but it’s the way the story unfolds, the details and insights and “how” the drama was played out. I think it is easy to remember the overall plot of an action packed or mystery based book. It is easy to remember that Hagrid exchanged a piece of vital information about fluffy to a stranger for a Dragon’s egg. But it is not easy to remember how vividly Emily Bronte paints the scene where Lockwood notices books and graffiti left by Catherine and how powerful and intoxicating the scene is when he is haunted by the ghostly Catherine trying to enter through the window. It is not easy to remember the brilliant description of Lucy Snowe’s complex character and inward struggles to ward off loneliness and all these lines and subtleties that I completely related with… are now forgotten. At the end of the day, I read some books for entertainment, I read some others for enrichment, and the final set (the classics) I read to find answers and find myself and find my idols. The last set of books are the books I critically need to re-visit and re-discover every now and then. These are some books that remind me of me, I can go back to them when I am feeling blue and lost and find a safe shelter and a road back home.
Everytime I go into a library or a book store filled with books, I am filled with an itch to read all these books that I haven’t. There are just so goddamn many of them. That fills me with awe, wonder and craving. So it is not that I don’t want to re-read my favourites, it is just that I am overwhelmed with the new options. Everytime I see Villete on the shelves, or glance at Sense and Sensibility, or A Christmas Carol or even Persuasion which I didn’t think I liked as much after reading but it has grown on me since – I am struck with a strong desire to pick them up and re-visit them. But I don’t.
I am going to try and make it a habit to consciously intervene and re-read some of my old favourites. I want to get to know them again, they are old friends and hidden treasures and I do not want to forget them. I have read and re-read The Secret Garden over and over again in a way that the words are now inside me, a part of me and I can no longer rationally explain to you what exactly is it about this book that I love so much, but I am absolute certain that curling up with this book is one of the most delightful experiences of all for me. The other old favourites deserve the same amount of care and affection.
“So let us praise the distinctive pleasures of re-reading: that particular shiver of anticipation as you sink into a beloved, familiar text; the surprise and wonder when a book that had told one tale now turns and tells another; the thrill when a book long closed reveals a new door with which to enter. In our tech-obsessed, speed-obsessed, throw-away culture let us be truly subversive and praise instead the virtues of a long, slow relationship with a printed book unfolding over many years, a relationship that includes its weight in our hands and its dusty presence on our shelves. In an age that prizes novelty, irony, and youth, let us praise familiarity, passion, and knowledge accrued through the passage of time. As we age, as we change, as our lives change around us, we bring different versions of ourselves to each encounter with our most cherished texts. Some books grow better, others wither and fade away, but they never stay static.”
– Terri Windling
Do you re-read old favourites? How do you keep a balance? Let me know your thoughts on the subject down below! Cheers.