I came across this passage from Nabokov on reading and re-reading recently:
Curiously enough, one cannot read a book: one can only reread it. A good reader, a major reader, an active and creative reader is a rereader. And I shall tell you why. When we read a book for the first time the very process of laboriously moving our eyes from left to right, line after line, page after page, this complicated physical work upon the book, the very process of learning in terms of space and time what the book is about, this stands between us and artistic appreciation. When we look at a painting we do not have to move our eyes in a special way even if, as in a book, the picture contains elements of depth and development. The element of time does not really enter in a first contact with a painting. In reading a book, we must have time to acquaint ourselves with it. We have no physical organ (as we have the eye in regard to a painting) that takes in the whole picture and then can enjoy its details. But at a second, or third, or fourth reading we do, in a sense, behave towards a book as we do towards a painting.
I agree with what Nabokov says here, and it bothers me that I do relatively little re-reading. Of course, I feel pulled by the lure of new books too, and that pull is almost irresistible, but reading nothing but new books (new-to-me books) feels a little bit superficial sometimes, as though I’m not really digging into my reading, really thinking about it seriously and experiencing it fully. I know I’ve written about this before, and I don’t mean to rehash old thoughts, but this feeling does stay with me.
So I’m tossing around the idea of focusing on re-reading next year. I’ll certainly read plenty of new books, but I might try to pick out some books I’d like to re-read as well, maybe some books that meant a lot to me in the past, or that I didn’t understand well the first time around, or that have continued to intrigue me. Perhaps I’ll re-read something now and then, say, once a month or so. I’m trying very hard not to commit to any reading challenges, but this wouldn’t be a challenge, exactly, and I wouldn’t set the books I’ll re-read in stone. Maybe I’ll list some possibilities, but make the final choices only at the last minute.
So, what might I re-read? Right now, these are a few books that come to mind:
- Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones. Of course I’d pick things from the 18C! I would like to know this early novel better; I’ve read Fielding’s novel Joseph Andrews quite a few times, as I’ve written about it before, but Tom Jones I don’t know as well.
- William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. This book has defeated me so far. I’ve tried to read it at least twice, succeeded only once, and didn’t really get it where I did succeed in finishing it. But I want to get it! I really do.
- Something by George Eliot. She’s one of my favorite novelists ever, and this re-reading would feel like pure pleasure. I’ve already re-read several of her novels, including Daniel Deronda and Middlemarch. So, perhaps I’d re-read The Mill on the Floss? Or Adam Bede?
- Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. I don’t feel like I’ve done justice to this book; perhaps I read it when I was too young or wasn’t able to focus on it fully. I have vague memories of it, but would like to know it better.
- Perhaps Lolita? I really love Nabokov’s writing, and I’m sure I have more to learn from this book. He’s such a wonderful writer, isn’t he?
- Perhaps I should return to some books from my youth? Perhaps the Betsy-Tacy books, or some Anne of Green Gables.
I’m sure I’ll think of more as I go on …