Sunday, September 27, 2009

Re rereading

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.


Deborah said...

I'm a serial re-reader too, 'though some books have gradually shifted off my re-reading schedule. I find that modern books I may reread two or three times, but classics I read again and again and again. Often if I am going away, I take one of my old favourites with me - much easier to pick up and put down at need.

I reread Anna Karenina recently (sometime in the last two or three years) and this time, as a forty-something woman, I was fascinated by Dolly. As a younger woman, I wanted to know about Kitty and Anna.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Duckie, that's pretty much exactly my pattern for re-reading.

I reviewed Possession when it first came out for one of the ABC radio book shows, the kind where you wrote your review and then went into the studio and recorded it. My review quoted that same wonderful rhapsody about the pleasures of reading that you've quoted in the post, and I barely got through it without bursting into tears because it was so fabulous and so moving. Very bad look for radio.

ronnie said...

*snap* to the rereading habit (even though my reread list mostly consists of austen.... I don't feel old enough/wise enough yet to attempt something as high falluting as proust even for the first time)

and another *snap* to the lifeline book fair - we may even have crossed paths (I would have been the short fast moving one darting around early on friday morning....) again my booky selections were not of the high brow type... a couple of sets of kiddies encyclopaedia, a red set of brittanicas, a couple of medical dictionaries.... all good stuff! (oh and thanks for the heads up regards the book fair - wonderful fun!)

Ampersand Duck said...

That would make a great meme, wouldn't it? Make a short list of books that you loved early in life, and then rediscovered later, and why they shifted in meaning. Actually, it would make a great magazine article, as long as the right readers were consulted (no celebrities!)

Pav, even reading that quote make my neckhairs rise, so I don't blame you for getting teary!

The other part that I dog-eared (I'm coming to the opinion that a loving dog-ear at a fav bit is kinder to the book than a scrap of -- usually acidic -- paper) was atpp. 276-77, when Ash is looking at Cristabel on the train and thinking about the difference between his mind's possession of her and the reality of her presence. Awsum.

Ampersand Duck said...

Hey, no worries, Ronnie! It's fun, isn't it? And snap to leaving a comment, we did it at exactly the same time...

ThirdCat said...

I re-read Lace and Lace II when I found them in a holiday home we stayed in recently and I loved them as much when I was 40 as I did when I was 14. Not sure that I bought new perspectives to my reading though.

Bet you could find copies of them at the lifeline fair.

Ampersand Duck said...

I'd say I could, but I'd be fighting off the other punters... they'd be in higher demand than, say, Swan ;)

Anonymous said...

Dark nights washed by distant rippling trees
and alien winds covering your eyelids, purifying
like everything, move on with splendid ease
leaving us a message: life will never cease
its sleepy course in vain
in order to attain
rebirth, since Death is not and Life is dying.

The heat around Time's corner waves a scent
for creedence revival of some virtual vampire
as deep inside. A force considered spent
returns from utter non-existence that was meant
to keep us out of breath -
Is Life both Life and Death?
Riddle of the Night! The Day be hot and dire.

My Poetry Blog


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Débiles enemigos se disipa amigos sin
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Hay falta de coherencia, la esperanza y la fe.
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Mindy said...

Happy Birthday Duckie (or at least Facebook says it's your birthday)

pk said...

Now I can see why your lips pursed ever so slightly when I said that I saw A.S. Byatt read and that she was as boring as batshit.......

happy birthday ducks

pk said...

My favourite re-read is Jeeves and Wooster: they never change.

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

Speaking of getting older, Happy Birthday, you brilliant and altogether gorgeous Internetian, you. xox