Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Morning Reading: Verlyn Klinkenborg on Re-Reading

I'm back in town, catching up on the newspapers that have piled up in my absence.

I am fond of Verlyn Klinkenborg's mini-essays that appear at the bottom of the New York Times editorial pages.

This one, titled "Some Thoughts on the Pleasures of Being a Re-Reader," reminds me of Nothing Remains the Same: Rereading and Remembering, a Wendy Lesser book I enjoyed a couple summers ago.

It's a good subject to consider as summer begins.


Part of the fun of re-reading is that you are no longer bothered by the business of finding out what happens. Re-reading “Middlemarch,” for instance, or even “The Great Gatsby,” I’m able to pay attention to what’s really happening in the language itself — a pleasure surely as great as discovering who marries whom, and who dies and who does not.

The real secret of re-reading is simply this: It is impossible. The characters remain the same, and the words never change, but the reader always does. Pip is always there to be revisited, but you, the reader, are a little like the convict who surprises him in the graveyard — always a stranger.

I look at the books on my library shelves. They certainly seem dormant. But what if the characters are quietly rearranging themselves? What if Emma Woodhouse doesn’t learn from her mistakes? What if Tom Jones descends into a sodden life of poaching and outlawry? What if Eve resists Satan, remembering God’s injunction and Adam’s loving advice? I imagine all the characters bustling to get back into their places as they feel me taking the book down from the shelf. “Hurry,” they say, “he’ll expect to find us exactly where he left us, never mind how much his life has changed in the meantime.”

To read the rest, click here.

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