There are readings--of the same text--that are dutiful, readings that map and dissect, readings that hear a rustling of unheard sounds, that count grey little pronouns for pleasure or instruction and for a time do not hear golden or apples. There are personal readings, that snatch for personal meanings...
Now and then there are readings which make the hairs on the neck, the non-existent pelt, stand on end and tremble, when every word burns and shines hard and clear and infinite and exact, like stones of fire, like points of stars in the dark--readings when the knowledge that we shall know the writing differently or better or satisfactorily, runs ahead of any capacity to say what we know, or how. In these readings, a sense that the text has appeared to be wholly new, never before seen, is followed, almost immediately, by the sense that it was always there, that we the readers, knew it was always there, and have always known it was as it was, though we have now for the first time recognised, become fully cognisant of, our knowledge.
A.S. Byatt: Possession, pp. 471-2 (1990, 7th impression, Chatto & Windus)
One of my great pleasures of getting older (those of you over 50 will scoff, but please bear with me) is re-reading.
There are many books that I read over and over. I've been keeping a formal reading list since 2000 (before that I just made diary entries if a book really impressed me), and now that it's been nine years of proper record-keeping, I've noticed a pattern. I seem to have a rotation of re-reading, so that if I read a new book and love it, I'll re-read it three years later, and then it gets in line with the other rotations, and they will emerge every five or so years amongst a lot of new reading. I might read a book that makes me think of Jane Eyre, and so I'll pull Jane Eyre off the shelf. If it's only been a year or so since I last reread it, I'll get a page or so in and feel that the re-reading is wrong, and put it back. There needs to be a decent interval, so that the book can feel familiar but still hold some small mysteries and pleasant surprises.
(This applies to other forms of entertainment as well: I can watch movies I like regularly but not constantly, and I can't watch a tv comedy again within at least six months of it first appearing, to BB's despair -- he is a Ricky Gervais addict, unfortunately, and many of my evenings on front of the computer are soundtracked by RG's insane and very annoying laugh.)
There are books on my shelves that aren't listed in my Reading List, which means that I should re-read them and decide if they still belong on my shelves. I decided, last week, to start with Possession, since I last read it as a student and I'd loved The Children's Story and many of her short stories so much.
And this is when I came to that conclusion about getting older. I've been thinking about this a bit, as you do when you roll over another year, as I do on Thursday. Thinking about fashions, how I scoffed at my mother grimacing at what I was wearing twenty years ago, and now I grimace daily as I walk through the art school wondering how that student over there managed to find the burgundy and gold acrylic Sussans jumper I chucked out when I finally grew a bit of dress sense.
A friend once told me that Proust is not worth even tackling until you'd had a bit of a life. I thoroughly enjoyed Possession as a 23-yo, but I wonder now how much I'd really understood of it. I must have talked about it in tutorials, maybe I even wrote something about it. But reading it on the other side of 40 made such a difference! Don't get me wrong, I'm not dissing the girl I was: it's just that I would have loved the fairy tale bits and not thought much of the academic parts and the abstinence parts (or the bits where you make space to understand who or what you are -- or who or what THEY are), which really are the guts of the book. So I'm looking forward to tackling a few more of the unlisted books on the shelf.*
It was the Lifeline Book Fair this weekend. I had to go to the Blue Mountains to celebrate a family birthday, so I popped in on Friday and found a few treasures, and then we dashed back today in time for the Sunday arvo trash. Lots of yummy poetry books, nice bindings to pull apart, and a couple of obscure things printed in letterpress that I need to do some research about.
I also found a gallery in Leura who are going to stock some books and prints of mine! huzzar!
*sorry, meant to write more here, but my train of thought has been shot to pieces by BB, who wants me to commit to coming to bed or not... NOT, but now that my concentration has gone, I might as well. Gah.