Me and My Lounge Chair and a Good Book
It’s summer and a lot of people I know have expressed their desire to be left alone on a beach with a good book to read. Most people have a favorite author who they’ll turn to, buying their latest best seller and heading for surf and sand. But how many of us are inclined to reread something we’ve enjoyed already? In a market full of new exciting choices, why go back to something you already know? Unsurprisingly, when I ask this of my friends, most of whom are very selective and committed readers, the answer usually comes up negative. Why look back? There are so many new books on my reading list that I don’t have time to reread anything.
It’s Something I’ve always Done
It’s a good argument. Nevertheless, I’ve always preferred to reread books that have brought me joy, excited my interest, or taken me to another place. There are so many of them. I’ve read Illusions by Richard Bach multiple times and have gifted it to many friends. Oh, that’ so short and easy to read, you say. Ok, I’ve also gone through Pırsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance a few times, as well The Satanic Verses and Midnight’s Children by Salmon Rushdie, for just a few examples. Each of these is a hefty read. Lately I’ve been going back through the works of Robert A Heinlein, though I’d already read his classic anthology (Stranger in a Strange Land, Time Enough for Love, I Will Fear no Evil, etc.) several times.
What’s the Appeal?
Let’s take Heinlein, for instance. There’s a curmudgeonly Libertarian named Lazarus Long who shows up in tale after tale. And although the character hasn’t aged well according to modern moral standards (selfish, conniving, sexist), it’s because of his flaws that he appeals to me (afterall, isn’t Satan the most appealing character in Milton’s Paradise Lost?) The plots for most of these stories involve time travel, longevity, and free love, but it is the irascible Lazurus Long who keeps bringing me back. He’s like the inappropriate uncle at Thanksgiving, minus racism, who never fails to scandalize the other diners – often by pointing out their own hypocrisy.
It’s not just memorable characters that keep me coming back though. Usually it’s the quality of the writing, hence Rushdie on my list. Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient is another book featuring outstanding prose and I’ve read it three times. Pirsig and Bach I enjoy for the philosophy that is featured in their work, and Vonnegut for the spare prose, eccentric characters, and wild plots. Sometimes I just want to re-savor a well-crafted phrase, mull over an idea again, or revisit a character who entertained me in the past. Most always, I find that my growing maturity allows me to plumb a new dimension in the writing.
My Point Is
A lot of people think that reading is like a competition and that whoever reads the most books before they die wins. To me, books are like old friends who have accompanied me at particular stages of my life’s journey. I enjoy touching base with them now and again and seeing how they’re holding up. I think it’s worth it, even if I never read the latest best seller.