Monday, April 16, 2012
Re-reading and Why We Do It
This article set me thinking about the books I return to on a regular basis, and to ask myself —why? Here are a few of my favorites. Short stories by J. D. Salinger, Willa Cather, and Hemingway (his early “Nick” stories). All the Peter Wimsey novels, Raymond Chandler novels, Josephine Tey’s, Margery Allingham’s and Agatha Christie’s. Pride & Prejudice and Emma. All of Barbara Pym. Well…on and on they go.
Now to the question—why? What draws me back to these books over and over again, and not to others? In the case of the mysteries, when I know the outcome, it certainly isn’t the plot that pulls me back. No. I’ve decided, it’s the people. I love being with Peter and Harriet Vane, and listening to their clever dialogue. I like to laugh at Philip Marlowe’s nasty, cutting remarks, and smile at the more subtle play of wit between Elizabeth and Darcy, Emma and Mr. Knightly. The fact that I’ve heard it all before, only enhances my enjoyment. These characters are like family, or very close, old, friends. You don’t mind hearing their stories, anecdotes, and witticisms, repeated. On the contrary, you look forward to them. For some reason, being able to anticipate them, makes them all the more enjoyable.
But what about those novels that don’t supply much humor, such as Rebecca, a book I re-read periodically. Is it just because it’s such a magnificent yarn? Or is it the exquisite rendering of evil that the author creates that fascinates me over and over again?
I know I haven’t begun to explain the magic potion that draws me back to these books repeatedly. If I could explain it, then I might be able to write such books myself. A futile dream that I know I will never fulfill. I wish you would share some of those books you return to again and again, and tell me why. Maybe it will help me find the answer to this nagging question.