Do You or Don't You?
December 05, 2012
For the record, I do. It comes up in every once in a while, and I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, I don’t have to tell anybody. And you’re right. But it just slips out sometimes.
I do. I reread books.
Most of the time when people ask me what I’m reading, I just list off the new things. But occasionally I include the books I’m rereading. There are always one or two that I’ve gone back to. Sometimes people understand, but usually I get an odd look and the question, "Why would you reread a book? You already know how it ends."
To me, that’s the wrong question. It’s kind of like, "Why would you ride that roller coaster again? You already know what it does."
Well, yes. And I liked what it did. That’s why I’ll get in line again. And possibly a third time.
That’s the first reason I reread books. The second reason is a little harder to explain, but it has to do with change. And that’s the thrust of the second question I always get – "Don’t you want something new?"
When you were a kid, did your parent ever measure your height on a wall or a doorframe? You stood against it, straight and tall as you could (maybe trying for a little extra height by standing on your toes), and tried to watch through the back of your head as somebody made a mark. And then you stepped away and nodded with satisfaction or drooped with disappointment. Of course, you had to use the same place every time, otherwise you couldn’t see how far you’d come.
The books don’t change. But neither did the wall.
Going back to a book I loved when I was younger – or even that I loved just last year – gives me a gauge of my own mind. Going back to a truly great book – say To Kill a Mockingbird or Watership Down – shows me how my own opinions change or solidify. Reading something like Flowers for Algernon at 14 is a different experience from reading it at 20, and different again now that I’m a little beyond 40. When I first encountered it, it was a lesson in empathy that I would have been a poorer person without. Now, it becomes a heartbreaking metaphor for Alzheimer’s disease, and I can see more clearly the suffering or indifference of the people watching this tragedy unfold.
Madeline L’Engle once wrote that heroes are like the people standing in a train station that we see out of the windows of the train as we pass by. They don’t move, but they tell us which direction we’re going and how fast. Books are like that, too.
North Oak Branch