Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Fine Art of Re-Reading

   There are always things we look forward to with eager anticipation.  That first date with that special someone we’ve admired from afar for so long.  The birth of a first child.  A weekend away from it all.  The release of a new book by a favorite author.  I'm filled with such anticipation at the moment as I count down the days until the release of Lauren Willig’s new (and sadly last) book in the Pink Carnation series, The Lure of the Moonflower.

     But sometimes I’m filled with even more anticipation as I contemplate the opening pages of an old and cherished favorite book I’ve decided to re-read. It's the anticipation of visiting old friends again. The thrill of heading down those well-traveled byways to places known and loved.

     It doesn't matter in the least that I’ve been there and done that, covered that ground, practically memorized the scenes or the dialogue.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made the dangerous trek to Rivendell and beyond with Frodo and Sam. Or sat quietly in the corner of Nero Wolfe’s office in the old brownstone on West 35th Street (on one of the yellow chairs, of course), watching the snarky, food-loving, orchid-loving, supremely intelligent Wolfe call all the suspects together and proceed to deduce the identity of a cold-blooded killer from nothing more than a dropped word.  Or walked the mean streets of Ankh-Morpork with Sam Vimes as he shelters out of the rain, smoking a foul cigar while doggedly searching for some elusive breaker of The Law.

     And it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve read a book before.  I still get a frisson of excitement as I read the opening sentence from LOTR: “When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton."  It gives me a feeling of warmth, of belonging. Of being, as was said so eloquently on Cheers, someplace where everyone knows you.

    When I reread a story, it's not the destination that matters--after all, I know where we're going to end up. Instead, it's the journey with old friends that provides the joy. It’s like going to visit a favorite old uncle—you know what chestnut of a joke he’s going to tell you even before it leaves his mouth, ‘cause he’s told it a hundred times before.  But it’s still comforting in its own way.

     Some people only want to break new ground, and I can appreciate that.  I love to read a new book as much as anyone.  It’s exhilarating to open the pages of a new book and visit uncharged territory.  But, in a year or two, I’ll start thinking ‘hey, wouldn’t it be fun to go back and read…whatever it happens to be… again?’  To check in on those old friends, see how they’re holding up.  And back I go.  Maybe it’s an addiction?  I don’t know.  All I know is, I can’t stop re-reading.  And I love it.

Keith W. Willis
TRAITOR KNIGHT (debuts Summer 2015 from Champagne Books BURST imprint).
twitter: @kilbourneknight

The more I learn about people, the better I like my dragon.


Julie Eberhart Painter said...

The classics and the those books that have stood the test of time are the best because, as you say, it's not the goal or ending we anticipate but the journey, which always seems fresh and filled with new discoveries.

Liz Fountain said...

Every few years I must re-read A Confederacy of Dunces, to remind me how hilarious human beings can be. And I'm about to re-read the Dark Tower series by Stephen King, just because. It seems we re-read the epics, but remember The Little Prince? Just a slip of a book, yet one that is often re-read with joy.

Olga Godim said...

What a great post, Keith. I love re-reading old favorites too. There are a few writers I reread every few years, and each time they bring me new joy.

Nikki said...

I love coming back to an old familiar and finding something new in it, usually because I've changed and grown and learned since the last time. LOTR often turns up on my TBR in the fall, because the theme of facing the darkness and struggling through it to the light is appropriate for that time of year.Other books I reread for the sheer pleasure of rediscovering the beauty within, like Hillerman's Navajo mysteries. Oh, and Liz, Le Petit Prince (I usually read it in French) is an epic of the soul, and I need that precious sip of water.

Gabriella said...

Good post Keith. I love opening the covers of an old familar book and sinking into it.