Well, this year, thanks to a longer rehearsals break, I’ve decided that things can take care of themselves for a few days while I read a little for fun and pleasure… Continue reading
I think I already told you about Writer Unboxed, a lovely writerly site, full of good ideas, thought-provoking questions, fine articles, practical wisdom, and so on.
Well, today on WU, David Corbett posed the question of reading or not reading while writing. He begins by observing that many writers seem to prefer not to – to avoid the risk of imitation, mostly – and then goes on to make a very convincing case for the opposite course of action. Continue reading
Last night, over dinner, we discussed reading and re-reading. At one point I said that re-reading is the proof of how Knowing What Comes Next is not the key to the pleasure of reading. It sounded nice, and it worked well in the discussion, but the matter is less straightforward, I think – so here are a few thoughts.
First of all, we don’t all re-read. My father was one compulsive re-reader, and the books that were his show it with much wear and broken spines. My friend Clementina, on the other hand, never re-read a book in her life, because “once read, it’s read. What’s worth remembering I’ll remember, what I won’t remember isn’t worth it.” And they say that in his (admittedly brief) life, Vendean general Henri de la Rochejaquelein only read again and again the memoirs of I don’t remember what 17th century strategist. Perhaps he didn’t know Thomas Aquinas, who found the Man of One Book so unnerving…
Then, not all books are of the re-reading sort. This, again, varies hugely from person to person, but some books become members of the family, to which one returns again and again for comfort or guidance. Of the beauty of some other books, one never tires – each re-reading like that visit at the National Gallery whenever one is in London. Other books are tied to a moment, a memory, an atmosphere – and that’s what one seeks re-reading. Then there are those plots, or characters so perfect, one goes back to study how on earth the writer did it, and there are seasonal books that grow into yearly rituals, and favourite chapters, scenes and descriptions, and those books one read too early to truly appreciate them…
On the other hand, there are all the ugly, annoying, disappointing books, the ones we had to read or study, the ones that gave us nightmares, the ones too intense for comfort, the ones that came to highly recommended – or just the forgettable ones. The ones we’ll never want to re-read.
Whatever the reason, though, my theory is that reading and re-reading are to hugely different activities. A first reading is an exploration, a matter of thrills and surprises – a combination of the wish to know What Comes Next and the enjoyment of the way there. It’s a matter of discoveries, very much like meeting a person or visiting a place for the first time. It’s the kind of experience that, at its best, keeps on up at all hours of the night. It’s like a first love – and, once gone, it’s gone.
Re-reading, now… Ah, re-reading is another kettle of fish. One re-reads more analytically. One goes deeper. One savours, sifts, observes, peels layers and enjoys nuances and complexities. One knows the general lay of the land, and revisits leisurely, enjoying the familiarity and digging for new beauties. Much like renewing an acquaintance, or returning to a place. It has joys of its own – its own set of pleasures.
The snag is, of course, that reading-time is finite, and one either reads or re-reads… Which is, in the end, why I don’t re-read as much as I’d like. Still, my Reading Week is approaching (perhaps), and I have half a mind to make it a Re-Reading Week instead. Just this year…
We’ll see. But what about you, O Readers? Are you Re-Readers?
For a long time, thanks to a middle-grade anthology, all I knew of Francie Nolan was that she borrowed a book every day – two on Saturdays. And that every Saturday the second book was If I Were King.
The story of François Villon was more wonderful each time she read it. Sometimes she worried for fear the book would be lost in the library and she’d never be able to read it again…
Francie even begins to copy it on a notebook – and then gives up, because it’s not like the book. Being blessed with a house full of books, I seldom used borrowed from the library as a child – but I could understand both the urge to read a beloved book again and again, and the pang at the idea of not being able to read it anymore. Continue reading
It all began with a night-time message after the first of three meetings, in which he had read Faust(us) himself.
“This is a little awkward,” he wrote. “I’d like to be told I was good, but I don’t think I was… There’s no time, no room to work on the character – and I see that the PS calls for a reading, rather than a deeper identification… This is how it is, but still I feel inadequate. My fault, for never knowing how to keep to the golden mean.” Continue reading
And so I found out just why they wouldn’t put me in touch with the interviewer: they simply couldn’t, because there was no such person.
Nobody to talk to the authors – unless I did it. Continue reading
Ain’t it just great? I was perfectly well, and suddenly I started coughing like mad, and it hurts when I do, and the doctor says it’s tracheitis.
Trouble is, tonight I should begin doing readings for authors at a small literary festival, but frankly I doubt I’ll be able to. Quite apart from the temperature and everything, even with codeine, I doubt either the authors or the audience would appreciate it, if I were to cough (brayingly) with every third (very scratchy) word… And that’s how things are, right now. Continue reading
Virtual WordPress snow, since it seems I can’t have the real thing…
And given the rather white nature of this blog, it doesn’t show much – so I thought I’d post a darkish (and fitting) image, just to show…
Also, this throws back to and old post – also fitting, because today begin my (small and snowless) Reading Holydays…
Picture me happily readingreadingreading Sanson, Donachie, Sutcliff, Dallam/Mole, Ferrero and Dumas by the fire – only stopping to pour myself another cup of tea.
Once upon a time, years ago, I sat in a railway waiting room in Nantes, France, reading a life of Henri de la Rochejaquelein as I waited for my train. I was so absorbed in my book, in fact, that it took me a while to notice someone crouched right before me, busy rummaging through one of those large duffel bags. And rummaging. And rummaging. And rummaging…
I did notice in the end, and stole a glance over the book’s rim – and there was this bespectacled boy about my age, pretending fascination with the contents of his bag, and desperately trying to get a peep at what sort of story held my attention so thoroughly.
So I gave him a smile, and tilted the book to show him the cover. Caught in the act, the boy jumped a mile, blushed furiously, grabbed his bag, and fled – but not before stealing a glance at the title, much to the amusement of two of three rows of fellow travelers.And yet, you know, the French boy had no need whatsoever to blush and flee: I am just the same. I cannot see a reader without itching to know. On a train, at the airport, at the vet’s… I just can’t help myself. I turn as nonchalantly as I can, I pretend to retie a boot, I risk dislocating my eyeballs, I blush to interesting hues when I get caught. I do it all the time.
Curiosity? Yes and no. It’s hard to resist the temptation to decipher someone based on what they read… And I know that one single book means little – and even less when traveling. One reads strange things, when traveling: gifts bought for someone else, or the one decent title found at the duty free, or the small volume that fits in the hand-luggage, or a fellow traveler’s loan… Or not. It’s hard to tell, it can mean very little. And yet, we all do it. Or at least, I do – and like to draw conclusions.
Which is why, when I catch someone peeking at my books, I understand it very well, and always tilt the book to show them the cover. Sometimes I do inobtrusively, sometime I exchange a grin with the peeker. After all, we belong to the same tribe, don’t we -just like that boy in France, once upon a time. Those Who Peek At Other People’s Books.