I confess to being the kind of reader who will stop and never return to a novel if it’s not to my taste or standards. I couldn’t even really begin Cloud Atlas. Apart from a missing page, I just didn’t get it and it didn’t draw me in. On the other hand, I did go back to Wuthering Heights a year after I first attempted it. It did draw me in at the first attempt, but I barely understood a word of Yorkshire. A year later (probably after watching the UK TV’s All Creatures Great and Small, set in the Dales) I completed it, no problems.
Then there are the books I return to time and again. I reread the short stories of Jorge Luis Borges, and the epic tome that is Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco. I keep returning to Wind in the Willows, and my teens were spent rereading Lord of the Rings, and everything else I could find by Tolkien.
So I am a re-reader. Some books, I will always return to. I know people who read books and never return to them, discarding each individual book like any single use plastic bag. I am not them.
There are definitely times when we need the safe and familiar around us more, and rereading helps. When babies are being jailed, when refugees complete suicide, when women are being raped and murdered and being shouted down for shouting about being attacked, an old story, well told once more, is a return to the security of knowing what’s next, and knowing exactly how bad it will be. Rereading, unlike reading, revels in the idea of already knowing where you are going, and the route you’ll take. Rereading is taking the time to enjoy well-worn paths through narrative, because right now, it’s easy to feel alone, and lost amid a seething ocean of petty hatreds, banal insecurities, and low-level anxieties that build on king tides of bad news that continually roll in. We can’t help but be caught in the rip.
I’m not advocating a retreat from news by the way. I want to know about the ways in which governments are violating rights, breaking and remaking laws, and generally taking digs at working people. But it’s also healthy to balance the stream of tragedy with something else. This could be learning to fight with German longswords, or work, or writing, or diving deep once more into a conspiracy between editors to co-create a plot about the secret rulers of the world, because these characters sound less disturbed than some current actual world leaders.
So, my questions are, are you rereading, what are you rereading and is it working?