As many of you know by now, I’ve recently launched an email newsletter. “Carrie’s Notebook” is a weekly letter to fellow book lovers. Each issue has a bookish theme and offers a personal essay and some sneak peeks at my bookshelf. Back on October 3rd, issue #5 focused on the guilty pleasure of rereading. I had a ball putting that one together. Mostly because it was a good excuse to search out first-person accounts by other writers about revisiting their favorite books.
Two essay collections in particular helped me understand how reading and memory become intertwined and how rereading can revise how we see ourselves and interpret our past. Of course, they also added plenty more books to my must-read list! Below are reviews of Wendy Lesser’s Nothing Remains the Same: Rereading and Remembering and Rereadings: Seventeen Writers Revisit Books They Love, edited by Anne Fadiman.
“Nothing demonstrates how personal reading is more clearly than rereading does.”
–Wendy Lesser, Nothing Remains the Same: Rereading and Remembering
Lesser, editor of a long-running literary journal, revisits books that have been important to her over the years.
I was so happy to find this book. I’d heard about it back when it was first published but never actually grabbed a copy. It has come to mind on several occasions since. For some reason, I never followed through on the urge to read it. Thank goodness for Amazon’s 1-click feature (so good, it’s bad!) and the human weakness for instant gratification.
Lesser offers great insight into how, through the books we reread, we rediscover ourselves. Or, rather, get a glimpse at our multiple selves. She points out how aspects of a book that we skimmed over at twenty might hit us right between the eyes at forty. And how memory and life experience can exert opposing pressures, so stories that comforted us at ten might unnerve our adult selves, dark connotations and troubling symbolism emerging out of the friendly scenes of our old favorites.
But wait… The opposite is also true. Rereading can also act as a time machine that grants access to younger selves, to the very moment (along with a full “sense” track of sounds, smells, emotions) we first read Little Women or The Secret Garden.
I think what I love most about this book is the license it gives readers to step back from our towering to-be-read piles and revisit books we’ve already known and loved. It underscores that, whatever the marketing world would like us to believe, a book is not just another product, to be consumed and forgotten.
This collection draws from the “Rereadings” section of The American Scholar. Writers consider books that have been pivotal in their personal or intellectual development.
Editor Anne Fadiman has gathered pieces from a wide variety of authors, film makers, and journals writing about everything from Pride & Prejudice to the album lyrics to Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The essayists also vary sharply in their approach to their material. Some are nostalgic. Others tongue-in-cheek. A few are measured and academic. All of them speak to the intimate nature of our relationship with what we read.
My personal favorite is probably Barbara Sjoholm’s “The Ice Palace.” She explores the fairy tale “The Snow Queen” framed by her own travelogue of a visit to an ice hotel near the very top of the world. Nadine Gordimer’s discussion of the works of Colette was also a standout and shows a fictional world’s uneasy dependence on its historical era.
As a whole, the collection rekindled my interest in some old favorites and also introduced me to others that I’m now eager to delve into for the first time.