Monday, October 9, 2017

Old Friends

If time were no problem, what books would you read again from your childhood, your young adulthood, and from the last five years. Why?

From Terry Shames

I was just having a conversation last night with my husband about The Magic Mountain and how much I would love to read it again. The first time I read it, I galloped forward, propelled by the story, and at times impatient with the density of Thomas Mann’s prose. It’s one of the few books I ever read that at the end I suddenly understood more in retrospect than I got from the parts of the story as I read. It’s a breathtaking, stunning book about the ferment of intellect in the years before World War I. It’s ironic, tense, and intellectually satisfying. To reread it would take not just time but effort.

I read Pride and Prejudice every few years. It’s so amusing and the language so rich! I have reread Sense and Sensibility and Emma, too, all for their wonderful wit. I would like to reread Mansfield Park, the darkest of Austen’s books.

I don’t care to reread books from my childhood. I wouldn’t mind getting my hands on a Raggedy Ann book and zipping through it, if for no other reason than to recall why I loved it, but I have no need to revisit childhood with so many rich books I could read from other times. As a child I read the Nancy Drew books obsessively. I read The Mystery of the Moss-Covered Mansion at least five times, and have no need to visit it again.

I have reread some classics and been disappointed: The Great Gatsby, The Grapes of Wrath, Angle of Repose, to name a few. All the writers of these books wrote other books I still love, but those didn’t hold up well. I’d like to reread War and Peace to find out if I still think the War part is amazing and the peace part boring. I’d also like to know if I could bear to read all the way to the end. The first time I read it, I was done with it before Tolstoy was. I’d like to reread Absolom, Absolom!, The Sound and the Fury, and The Wild Palms to find out if I still think they are brilliant. I probably ought to dip back into Hemingway to find out if I still think he’s a blowhard and boring (I know, sue me!).

I plan to reread Derek Walcott’s breathtaking full-length poem, Omeros from beginning to end. I dip into parts of it occasionally and it transports me.

My bookshelves are lined with books that I haven’t yet read, and I am increasingly unwilling to finish a book that isn’t compelling. I also have shelves of books that I think I’ll reread someday. And then there are books that I probably will never read, or reread. In the latter case, I keep them because they are old friends. I like to know they are with me—and you never know, I may someday be in restless mood, unable to find just the right book to appeal, and suddenly know that Loon Lake or Crossing to Safety, or V, or The Name of the Rose, or The Way We Live Now, or Outerbridge Reach is just the ticket to take me to another world.


Karen in Ohio said...

Terry, I share your contempt for Hemingway. Plus, he was so clearly an alcoholic, every page is practically oozing alcohol fumes. I recently read The Sun Also Rises, and had to restrain myself from getting up to have a cocktail. And from hurling the book at the wall. His superiority and misogynism was jarring and grating.

Every few years I reread Mark Twain's "Innocents Abroad". It still holds up, is still hilarious, and also still exposes the naivete and ignorance of some of us. As an American, and especially today, it's good to stay humble, and that book keeps me so.

Terry said...

Thanks, Karen. I don't think I've ever read Innocents Abroad. I'll have to give it a whirl, especially if it speaks to current issues.

Kathy Reel said...

There e are books I'd love to reread, but I can't even keep up with the new books I want to read. I used to read The Hound of the Baskervilles every few years, but it's been a while now. Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome is one I'd like to get back to again. And, I pull out Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology every now and then to remind myself that we all have secrets in our lives and that hypocrisy is an ugly thing.