"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Tuesday, June 18, 2024


Rereadings: Seventeen Writers Revisit Books They Love
edited by Anne Fadiman
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York. 2005.

I picked up Rereadings at a used bookstore years ago. Why this book? First, I had read Anne Fadiman's Ex Libris and loved LOVED it. I devoured that book with a fat highlighter in my hand. Ultimately the whole books became one big highlighted section after another. Perhaps this book was just as good. Second, rereading books is always a problem for me. Should I or shouldn't I? I wondered what authors thought of rereading their favorite books? If they thought it was a worthwhile practice. I decided to find out. As Fadiman said in her opening essay about the project, "The problem with being ravished by books at an early age is that later rereadings are often likely to disappoint."

Last summer I finally plucked Rereadings off my bookshelf and then very unceremoniously placed it in the bathroom where it could be easily reached if one were to spend more time in the small room and needed a diversion. 😏. One never makes fast progress with this type of book and indeed it took me over a year to complete it. Due to the slowness of the reading I would often lose my way and have to start essays over again from the beginning. I even read one essay three or four times before I realized I'd already completed it. Not ideal. 

The rereadings project began when Fadiman became the editor of a literary quarterly, The American Scholar. It was decided that each issue would contain an essay written by an author after rereading a book they read and enjoyed before they were twenty-five. This book is a collection of Fadiman's seventeen favorite essays from that endeavour. She purposely selected essays that were dissimilar and from authors from all around the world. Of the seventeen authors included, I've only heard of one before, Allegra Goodman. Of the books these authors reread I have only read two, Brideshead Revisited and Pride and Prejudice. About the books I hadn't read, some of the authors wrote in such a way it didn't matter if I were familiar with them or not. It was more like reading a short autobiography where the author showed how the particular book helped guide them through some life issue or another. Imagine the author's delight to learn that the book still had something to say to them decades later. But other writers assumed that readers of the essay were familiar with the book they reread and their essays were difficult to slog through.

My favorite essay was written by David Michaelis. He is a biographer and was born the same year as me, 1957.  He didn't reread a book. He reread the liner notes for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, by the Beatles. As a ten-year-old he used his own money and bought of copy of the famed album. Often, he said, he would sit and read the liner notes without the music playing.
I settled into the habit of sitting cross-legged and alone, ostentatiously studying Sgt. Pepper's words without playing the stereo at all. It was a deliberate act to read the Beatles without the music. Using my eye instead of of ear to ransack the lyrics for hidden adult meanings turned even a ten-year-old into a seeker of ambiguity, an investigator of the imagination, a devotee of poetry... My true experience of Sgt. Pepper was as a reader.
On his rereading of the liner notes, Michaelis noticed how the fantastical world created in Sgt. Pepper was still dependent on the real world. Sgt. Pepper was supposed to be about a world before 1967 but looking back Michaelis saw that world, the one created by and for the Beatles, as very THEN.

When I read the essay about Sgt Pepper liner notes, I bookmarked it and asked my husband, also born in 1957, to read it. He did and then we had a very animated discussion about our memories of reading liner notes on albums as we were growing up. Both of us spent much time sitting in front of our stereo players with the record album turned to the back side or open like a book, scrutinizing the lyrics to every song. In case you were born after 1980 you may not know what I am talking about. See photo below:
It is thought that Sgt. Pepper was the first pop album to include all the lyrics on the back of the record sleeve. The print was tiny, but legible, at least in the beginning until it got worn away from use. Not long after The Beatles started including lyrics on their albums, all rock/pop groups did the same thing. And it got more and more elaborate. Here is an example of the liner notes inside the double album of Elton John's 1973 Yellow Brick Road which my husband owned and loved:

But I digress.

The point of my examples and all the essays is that rereading book (or liner notes) won't render the same experience we had when first we read them, but the second (third or more) time will render something new and probably just as delightful. "Is a book the same book—or a reader the same reader—the second time around? The seventeen authors in this witty and poignant collection of essays all agree on the answer: Never...And as every bibliophile knows, no love is more life-changing than the love of a book."

Instead of reading this book about rereading, I challenge you to reread an old favorite today. Maybe you will find yourself falling down an old rabbit hole to wonder and joy you once experienced as as a young reader.

2024 Twenty Books of Summer Challenge

3 / 20 books. 15% done!


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