I re-read a lot, especially for comfort but also in book groups or to revisit works that are especially meaningful to me. My reading memory is so terrible that I often have forgotten plot and character enough to be surprised again, but even when I do remember, I almost always notice new angles or features. I also love reading about reading, so I was prepared to enjoy this book, but it exceeded my expectations. Spacks articulates many aspects of re-reading that ring true to me:
The experience of reading [Brighton Rock] seemed new, although the book itself did not. This distinction is vital to rereading’s pleasures. Even give perfect memory of a text from previous reading, I would posit, … the act of rereading under new circumstances, as a new moment, virtually guarantees new thoughts and feelings.
She examines different kinds of rereading: children’s books, Jane Austen, “guilty pleasures,” books she “ought to like,” professional reading (she’s a professor of English at U of Virginia), and also branches into reading with other people–revisiting Islandia, one of my liked-but-never-got-all-the-way-throughs. Three of the most interesting chapters to me were rereadings of books she associated with the 1950s (Lucky Jim and Catcher in the Rye), 60s (The Golden Notebook), and 70s (The Sacred and Profane Love Machine by Iris Murdoch). Many of the books she mentions I’ve also reread, and even if I didn’t feel the same way–the Narnia books haven’t worn out for me as they have for her–her descriptions are always interesting and convincing. Her ultimate conclusion is that rereading is more complex than one might think, and that it’s often more about us changing as people than about the text itself:
To think about my own rereading has encouraged a sense of humility, especially when it comes to questions of value. … Although I still hold that the question of value deserves pondering in relation to everything read, I’m no longer sure that such reflection produces solid results in any individual instance. My uncertainly comes from my reversals over the years. … The really unsettling part is that my standards remain the same. I value complex characterization, effective and elegant prose, meaningful and engaging plot, large import. I find exactly these qualities, however, where I did not find them before; and they have disappeared where I once readily discerned them.