Curiously enough, one cannot read a book: one can only reread it. A good reader, a major reader, an active and creative reader is a rereader.
-- Vladimir Nabokov, in Strong Opinions --
I wonder if I am a very good reader.
Admittedly, there have to be way worse ones. Readers than me. Oh, hell yeah.
I mean, I do give it a good try, I think. I try to thoughtfully read.
But if ol' Vladimir's words, above, are even half as ex cathedra as they seem -- yeah, I am a poor reader.
I just read and move on. Read and move on. Read and move on.
I have much the same approach to eating, I guess.
My relationship with food is not at all about lengthy contemplation. It's morseo about, "Hey, that plate was full a minute ago!"
And not only this. I'm not talking about SPEED!
I'm moreso, after reading [and rereading] the Nabokov quote, thinking about my entire thought process.
I eat a great meal, and my mind is already on the next platter of grub!
I read a great book and........ well, you get the picture, right?
About "food" I am no connoisseur.
At least with books, I can take some comfort in feeling that I am somewhat selective in what I ingest.
But, I seldom reread.
Am I a good reader? A major reader? An active and creative reader?
<-- In her [very] recently released book, Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays, novelist Zadie Smith says, "The novels we know best have an architecture. Not only a door going in and another leading out, but rooms, hallways, stairs, little gardens front and back, trapdoors, hidden passageways, etc. It's a fortunate rereader who knows half a dozen novels this way in their lifetime."
Again, a provocative statement. To follow through with my food analogy, hmmm... I consider the following:
What if I did not [pardon me] umm........ DIGEST all the food I ate?
Just kept on cramming it in to my haggis-holder there!
Believe me, it's a lot of grub! On a daily basis.
I'd probably explode.
I don't joke around about two things:
Food and Books.
It seems to me that both of these incredibly astute authors are suggesting here that rereading is the elan vital of the truly literate reader.
With Zadie Smith's statement I would seriously have to ask myself..... "Which novels have I read and reread?"
I know that the novel that launched me into a life of literature-appreciation was Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles.
Did I reread it? Yes.
And my favorite novel? Anna Karenina.
Did I reread it? Yes.
But most of the books I read?
I read. I move on. I DEVOUR! I devour another. I'm gluttonous.
If I were to address Zadie and/or Vladimir 100% honestly, I would say that for me, personally, the novel I have reread the most -- the novel that probably defines my interests the most, the novel, the architecture of which,l I am most familiar -- is C.S. Lewis's wonderful 1956 book, Till We Have Faces.
I have read it at least four or five times, and I know I will read it again.
It is the myth of Cupid and Psyche, retold.
An amazing book about the distinction between pure and profane love.
Interestingly enough, C.S. Lewis himself was a man who also valued the art of rereading.
In 1947, he said, "An unliterary man may be defined as one who reads books once only... The re-reader is looking not for actual surprises (which can come only once) but for a certain surprisingness. The point has often been misunderstood... In the only sense that matters the surprise works as well the twentieth time as the first. It is the quality of unexpectedness, not the fact that delights us. It is even better the second time... in literature. We do not enjoy a story fully at the first reading. Not till the curiosity, the sheer narrative lust, has been given its sop and laid asleep, are we at leisure to savour the real beauties. Till then, it is like wasting great wine on a ravenous natural thirst which merely wants cold wetness. The children understand this well when they ask for the same story over and over again, and in the same words. They want to have again the 'surprise' of discovering that what seemed like Little-Red-Riding-Hood's grandmother is really the wolf. It is better when you know it is coming: free from the shock of actual surprise you can attend better to the intrinsic surprisingness of the peripeteia."
Narrative lust. I like that.
The whole quotation makes perfect sense.
Everything right up until that last word, written in Klingon.
I personally own FIVE separate copies of Till We Have Faces.
No one keeps just one frozen hamburger in the freezer!