I just finished Rereadings, a book of essays by a few different writers (some of my favorite) on rereading favorite books. I loved most of it. I balked when reading Lopate on Stendhal because I haven't read Stendhal and it was frustrating. I need to stop reading books that add to my need to read list. At least until I catch up with what I already have. Stendhal is someone I feel I should read but may never. Same goes for Henry James. Reading about them makes me feel the urge. I will admit to being a bit intimidated by them. Maybe someday.
Patricia Hampl has an essay in the book, which sent me on an often repeated quest. It would be silly to say I don't have a lot of books. I have a lot of books. It just doesn't seem like I have so many that I should regularly lose them. And I do. My books have never been more organized. Yet I'm always standing in front of my shelves looking for a book. I am very sure I read her book: I Could Tell You Stories but I cannot find it. Frustrating. I recently lost one of Fadiman's books: ExLibris. I found it on a shelf with mostly Spanish/English dictionaries. Sometimes a book is on a shelf because that's where it fits.
I was visiting my father once. (I barely knew him.) (I spent less than a year in presence.) (But that's another post.) So I was visiting and found a copy of In Cold Blood on a shelf. His wife at the time (he had six) was a reader of sorts. For lack of anything else to read I read it. I don't really remember what I thought about it. Years later I was assigned it in a class on non fiction writing. It was illuminating to read it again in that context. AND THEN ... I was assigned it in my MFA program. When I saw the movie: Capote I felt like I was never going to get away from the story. It is a masterful book. But of all the books in the world I might reread! TWICE!!!! I mean. Sigh.
Didion wrote about the night her husband John Dunne died. She was making dinner, he was rereading a book because he was trying to understand it mechanically. Their entire relationship feels so romantic to me, right up till the end. It's the romance of reading and writing and thinking about reading and writing and having someone to talk to about reading and writing.
I'm not sure I get the mechanics of writing when I read. Maybe sometimes but it doesn't come easily to me. Rereading does give you the distance to notice things like structure. I was also assigned The Color Purple years after I read it for pleasure. Reading it in the context of a class changed the way I felt about it. Not in a positive or negative way. I remember thinking that I hadn't really noticed the epistolary form the first time. I was just caught up in the story.
I was just talking to Val (well actually writing to Val but it feels like talking) about rereading and loving books. I have friends who only read for pleasure and I am not the least bit critical of that. Sometimes I enjoy a book so much I forget to notice the writing but not often. I would blame my MFA program but it's always been that way. In fact I was dismayed by how few of the people in my program read. Or loved reading. Or loved books.
I was staying at a friend's house once. She loved Herman Hesse. She had really sweet little collection of his books on her dresser, shrine like. I don't remember her reading much else or having many other books. I had loved him in high school. Loved! Felt like his books were road maps to life. One night I carefully picked up one of her books and ... kind of hated it. I don't even remember which one or exactly why I felt that way but it was a terrible feeling. It was like a love of my life had been smashed. I intend to read something by him again just to see if I can figure it out, if I can ever stand to feel those feeling again. Vivian Gornick has an essay in Rereadings that says something similar about her rereading of Colette. She does not reject Colette but walks around feeling as if "pieces of her writing lie heavy on my chest." Gornick is "wrenched by the beauty of that which no longer feels large, and can never feel large again."
I have a stack of to be reread books almost as large as my to be read stack. When I was seventeen the mommie sent me to stay with my paternal grandmother for the summer. She was afraid of the changes she saw in me and felt I might do wild hippie things if left at home while she worked. I suspect I might have done a few wild-ish things but mostly I would have watch reruns of StarTrek (the original) and read books. I took Dostoevsky into my exile. My aunt had recently died of Cancer but her beauty shop was still in the back room. I leaned back on the chair in front of the hair washing sink and read The Idiot, Crime and Punishment and The Brother's Karamazov. I also huffed glue. Wild-ish things happen everywhere. I'd like to reread them with out the teenage angst and blurry eyes.
I'd like to reread Anais Nin's journals to see if they still feel so exciting. I'd like to reread Kerouac for similar reasons. These were the books that sent me into the world looking for wild-ish things.
It all depends on how long I live and how well my eyes hold up I suppose.