Re-reading: My Literary Comfort Blanket
As I look at my bookshelves loaded with amazing titles yet to be read, it’s hard to justify returning to novels I’ve read numerous times before. Yet re-reading is something I frequently do. Revisiting a favourite novel has all the comfort and enjoyment of catching up with old friends. Re-reading isn’t just about having an identikit experience – great novels get richer with every read, revealing subtle nuances missed the first and subsequent times. The experiences also differ because while a book may be trapped in time, I am not, and if there are many years, or even decades between readings, I’ll be seeing these characters from a different place in my life, and seeing my old self in there too.
So what are my favourite re-reads? Well, I never tire of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby‘, and read it again earlier this year. It’s not the plot that pulls me back, but the observations of people. Every time I dig in, I unearth new insights, it’s miraculous.
Another favourite book is ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being‘ by Milan Kundera. I haven’t read it for a few years now, so a revisit is well overdue. It’s a wonderfully thought-provoking novel set in 1968 during the Prague Spring. It’s the complicated relationships between Tomáš, Tereza, and Sabine, Tomáš’ lover at a time of political upheaval, and the questions the novel asks about an individual’s entitlement to freedom and happiness that stays with you long after the novel’s end.
There is something about Jack Kerouac’s ‘On The Road‘ that reminds me of my youth. It blew my mind when I read it as a young teen, and on every subsequent reading of it since at different ages of my life. It reminds me of who I once was, my idealism and my ideas of freedom and what I considered of value. What was important to me then has pretty much remained the same, although now I’m thoroughly cynical and jaded, but I like that the me that was is still in me in some way. When I feel stuck, rereading ‘On The Road‘ helps me shake off the shackles, and redefine what to keep hold of and what I can lose.
As well as those particularly well-thumbed books, I like to revisit certain authors fairly regularly. ‘Great Expectations‘ seems to be my go-to Dickens’ novel, but I’ll read Jane Austen, the Brontës and Virginia Woolf regularly, too. I may only be on the second volume of Proust’s ‘In Search of Lost Time‘, but I can already tell that as soon as I get to the end, I will go straight back to ‘The Way by Swann’s‘ and start all over again. Proust is definitely a keeper.
(I am currently camping in a field in the rain. Unless I join the circus I’ll be back on the 9th August.)