Read Me Once, Read Me Twice

I often like to return from a long walk, and refresh with a drink and a book on the back deck. Today however, I thought I would create a few words regarding my newfound reading lifestyle as I recover. I mentioned recently that I read The Reading Life, a collection of essays, articles, and letters by C. S. Lewis. Lewis himself has been referred to as one of the best-read men of his generation. In this collection are writings Lewis shares with us not only encouraging one to read, but to become what he calls, a “true reader”.

The collection contains some excerpts from a chapter in his book “An Experiment in Criticism”, in which Lewis addresses some traits of a true reader. One of these traits he addresses is, a love to re-read books, which is his gauge for identifying an “unliterary” reader vs a “literary” reader. So, this is the trait I’m addressing currently in my reading journey, not in a “disciplinary” manner, but in a “development” manner to continue the process of “making a better me”.

Honestly, there are very few books (excluding books of the Bible) that I have ever read a second time; probably could count on one hand as they say. Lewis equates the “I’ve read it already” mindset to a mindset that the book is “dead” to me, like a “burnt-out match” or an “old railway ticket”. Those words really settled into my consideration concerning my approach to reading. Afterall, I can count many movies that I have watched many times, even several that I ensure I watch two or three times a year. So, why not books?

The book collective here in the Gallatin/Hendersonville area where I reside, has recently chosen two books that I had already read in years past. I reflect on that circumstance, and I realize I never once considered not “re-reading” it, maybe out of guilt or feeling like I may not be able to offer much discussion from memory if I didn’t spend the time to travel between the covers of those two books again. I want to share two lessons I learned through these re-reads that is aiding me in becoming a true reader.

First lesson involves the book Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan which I had previously read about ten years prior. While a lot of the detail of the book had faded into very minimal recollections, it had left “impressions” on me as were recalled while reading several poems by Mary Oliver. However, in addition to adding back some deeper meanings that had been a part of these “impressions”, I found myself completing the book this time with an additional enthusiasm for examining other works by Pollan, namely, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. While reading that book, I came to recognize Pollan’s talent with a deeper understanding. While there was a somewhat familiar “essence” between the two books, there were new enlightenments to be garnished. Thus, I learned re-reads can lead to new experiences through an author’s work.

Second lesson involved the book Still Life with Oysters and Lemon by author Mark Doty, which I had read a couple years prior. Again, I found myself vaguely recalling some of the prose, but primarily limited to a single “impression” that it had changed my view of art, specifically paintings. So being a good member in standing within our book collective I obediently embarked on my re-read of this work. Honestly, this seemed like a book I had never read! What had happened? It was the same book; I was sure of that. But…… it was NOT the same ME. I had retired, both daughters were out of the “house”, one 930 miles away in Boston even. I had started reading again but now outside science and technical genres; I had read almost 100 books in a 24-month span. All this reading had been working a change in me. This time Doty’s book was opening new thoughts, revelations, and opportunities to re-visit other past experiences. I wonder if the book could do this again in about 12 months. Hmmmmm?

So, yes, I will continue my efforts to re-read books each year. Lewis suggests that one should read “two old books for every new one.” I’m not committing to a specific formula, but I am committing to an intentional effort to identify, set aside, and re-read books that I have provided space for in my life. You up for it?