Monday, March 27, 2006

Reading and Having Read

I just re-read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I say I re-read it, because I remember reading it before. But no, I remember having read it. I remember saying "I've read that book." I remember the tree. I remember Brooklyn. I remember the book was in the attic bookshelves at my mother's house. I remember looking at the cover and thinking "I've read this."

But, having just read it this week, I can honestly say I don't remember any of it. Did I actually ever read it before - or did I intend to and then think I read it?

I thought perhaps I was losing my mind, or that this was a phenomenon unique to me. Apparently, it is not. Melissa Wiley at Here in the Bonny Glen has remembered reading books and yet - when re-reading them found the experience new and enlightening.

She beautifully captures the experience of re-reading The Great Gatsby:
I might as well have been reading for the first time a book I'd only heard vague hints about. The language, the richness of it, was wholly new. I had no memory of tasting those phrases and images before. It was like trying some kind of food, like chocolate or lobster, for the first time. No matter what one has heard other people say about it, the exact flavor is indescribable because it is unique. It, in fact, forms a basis of comparison for other foods. I could say that some other book has a Gatsby-like quality, but I can't say Gatsby tastes like anything else I've ever tasted before.
And she references a post she read at Book World, about how long a book stays read. There, the author stated:
I know the story lines and names of some of the characters in [these books] because they are themselves well known, and have passed into the wider common culture outside the novel itself. But I'm reasonably confident that if I went back and re-read them I would find the books themselves almost unrecognisable.
So, how many books do we not read because we read them before?

There are so many wonderful new books out there. There are so many wonderful old books out there. If we keep re-reading the same few we miss out on so much.

But, how much do we miss, by saying "I read that already." Especially when talking about books that were read in High School.

In a book discussion group I belong to, we read both Fahrenheit 451 and To Kill a Mockingbird. Both books I read in high school. Both books I enjoyed reading in high school. And I remembered the books. But what a rich and new experience it was reading them as an adult.

Should I just re-read everything. Some books that I hated I would probably love. Some I loved, maybe I wouldn't care for anymore. And then there are all the new books. Who can keep up?

I still don't know if I really ever did read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn before. (And, by the way, I absolutely loved every minute of that book.) But, after reading Melissa Wiley's blog, I'm thinking I should re-read The Great Gatsby.

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