Saturday, May 30, 2009

Reading Again, And Again

I don’t mean to steal another writer’s thunder but I find myself in full agreement with Verlyn Klinkenborg who had an excellent essay on the pleasures of re-reading books in today’s New York Times.

I have the same habit. Could one reading of Shakespeare ever suffice? The same might be said of Dickens, Cervantes and numerous others.

Klinkenborg points out his work requires a certain amount of re-reading. But the re-reading on which he focused is that done purely for pleasure, to reacquaint himself with old and cherished friends.

I agree, and I have my favorites. I can't recall the number of times I've read Wuthering Heights and Moby Dick. And don't even get me started on poetry. But we needn't be high brow or limit ourselves to literature with a capital L. I enjoy a visit with Thoreau, William Bartram and Gilbert White (subject of Klinkenborg's The Rural Life. And I confess to finding something new every time I read writers as diverse as Katherine Anne Porter, Peter Matthiessen, Ruth Rendell, Vladimir Nabokov and James Lee Burke.

In some ways I'm like the narrator in Maugham's wonderful tale, The Book-Bag, who says "Some people read for instruction, which is praiseworthy, and some for pleasure, which is innocent, but not a few read from habit." Maugham says the latter is neither innocent nor praiseworthy. Personally, I think there are worse habits.

Klinkenborg says the characters in the books he re-reads never change, the words remain the same but the reader always changes. It is that change in ourselves gives the habit merit.

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