Well, that was one of the worst new year's resolutions ever. I can't believe there was a time when I used to update this site every day. Holy crap.
So I was looking at the growing stack of completed books beside my bed and realized that every single one of them is a re-read. And I realized that, not only do I seem to be unwittingly reading only books I've read before, but I have no desire to read something new. What's the deal with this?
I'm not concerned about it or anything, mind you. In fact, I'm kind of embracing it. I've always been a re-reader. Up until a few years ago, I had always assumed that anyone who reads a lot – and who values good books – must also re-tread a lot of bookish ground. I was surprised to learn that, in fact, I'm the oddity.
I re-read for a lot of reasons. The fact that I have a terrible memory is a big one. I have to read a book at least twice for the ending to stick, and I can be just as shocked by sudden plot twists the third time around as I was the first and second. (Note: This also happens to me in real life.)
Comfort is another big reason. Like most of you (I'm guessing), there are times when I read prescriptively. I'm blue, so I need some P.G. Wodehouse. I'm blah, so I need some Tolkien. Etcetera. The older I get, the better I am at assessing my mental state and writing out a little literary Rx for what ails me. This is an unanticipated benefit of aging, and one that I'm grateful for. Hopefully it will prevent me from ever stumbling again as catastrophically as I did during The Already Horrible November During Which I Read The Death of Ivan Ilych and Got Even More Depressed. (My man Rusty remembers this as The Month I Found Doppelganger Hiding Under the Bed and Had to Poke Her Out With a Broom.)
But comfort and addled brains aside, I love re-reading books because they serve as benchmarks for me. I remember that I first read Pride and Prejudice when I was seventeen, the same age as Elizabeth Bennett. She seemed impossibly alien to me then. I've read Pride and Prejudice, oh, about ten or so times since then, and the older I get, the more I understand Elizabeth. And dear god, now that I have kids, I'm even starting to get Mrs. Bennett. Help me.
The Pride and Prejudice I read twenty-three years ago is a completely different novel from the one I read last year. I can't imagine what it will become in the decades ahead. This is terribly exciting to me.
I think any book truly worth reading once is worth reading again and again. So I've decided that this year, barring any encounters with brand-new books I must read, will be the year that I try to re-read fifty of the best books I can remember (ha!) reading over the past decades. Exciting!
Coming up next: The Hobbit.