On Rereading

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Patricia Meyer Spacks spent a year intentionally rereading dozens of books. Spacks is a professor of literature and brings the voice of both the professional reader/critic and that of just a lover of books. This was an interesting book to read at the same time as embarking on the Shelf Discovery project. I liked that Spacks really thinks about why we reread and how different types of books are read and reread in different ways. She examines the rereading of childhood books, “classics”, books we should have liked but didn’t, guilty pleasures, books that belong to a particular time period, the difference between reading for pleasure and reading for a job and rereading as part of a group endeavor (particularly interesting in this age of book blogs and challenges). Spacks is at her most interesting when discussing big ideas; at times she spends too much time in a detailed critique of the individual books she chose to reread. This is one of those books that took me forever to read for some unknown reason. I liked the idea and found it interesting but I kept getting bogged down. When that happened, I admit to skimming through some of the discussions of the individual books.  In the end, the big ideas gave me plenty to think about.

Here lies a a danger of rereading. I believe firmly in a magical theory about reading- that one mysteriously discovers, at every stage of life, just the books that one really needs at that moment. p. 151

All these years later, I know enough: know enough not to enjoy something that once gave me delight. The sensation of loss coexists with the perception that I’m more astute than I used to be but far exceeds it in emotional weight. I feel affection for that little girl reading with a flashlight, but also a faint overlay of shame that I was formerly so benighted. Rereading may measure progress of various kinds. It also can measure deprivation. p. 151 

A book that appeals to one’s sensibility will feel authoritative and right, at a level more profound than and designated by the orthodox terms of literary criticism. As in relationships with people, we seek in relationships with books evidence of a kindred spirit. p. 196

No one ever reads alone. When we encounter a book for the first time, perhaps devouring it in solitude, we participate in silent exchange with the book’s author, whose efforts to shape our responses we encourage or resist or permit. Moreover, the obscure presences of those who have read the book before us- sometimes many generations of readers- hover in the background. Perhaps we have heard of the book before we begin to read it. Perhaps we have been enticed by a current review, or by someone’s casual or enthusiastic reference, or by an allusion in something else we’ve read. In any of these instances, we must realize, even if we barely notice, that we read in the company of others. p. 243

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