Remembrance of books past

Are you scared to re-read books you’ve enjoyed in case they’re not as good as you remember? Have you gone back to one and been disappointed, and ruined your treasured memory of it? There are only a dozen or so books I’ve read more than once since adolescence, and luckily I think all of them have survived a second reading unscathed, some of them even being better than I remembered. Remembrance of Things Past is ridiculously long but I adored it when I first read it and a couple of years later I read it again; that second time seared it onto my brain so I can recall it at will (to offset the impression this particular book may give you, the other books I can remember reading twice are all 5 of the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy, Lord of the Rings, the first 2 Discworld novels, the first 2 Red Dwarf novels, and War and Peace. Eclectic). Of course, I don’t recall books the same way OneMonkey (and almost everyone else?) does – he remembers character names, the order of events, even quotes, whereas I remember the picture I had in my head when a certain scene was described, the feeling produced by particular events, and a jumble of characters and dialogue that leave me with the impression of the book without my actually being able to tell anyone else what happened if more than a couple of weeks have passed since I read it.

OneMonkey often re-reads books he’s particularly enjoyed, coming back to them as to an old friend, knowing there’s a warm welcome within – it’s first readings that he often finds disappointing. His attitude to reading isn’t the same as mine though, he’s not desperately trying to cram in as many books as possible in case he misses something good. For me, the main reason not to re-read books is that there just isn’t time; there are so many books I know I haven’t got round to reading yet, and each year a few more are published that I might enjoy. Stephen King (according to On Writing) reckons he’s a slow reader yet gets through 70-80 books a year. I’m doing well if I get through 45, and my most book-filled year (since 1992 anyway) contained only 60 books. At the moment I read on the train morning and evening, I read in my lunch hour, and I often read during the evening or at weekends (particularly at lunch)

When I was a student with a 10-15 minute walk to lectures from my flat, I discovered that because there was only one road to cross on the way and I could avoid pedestrians, lamp-posts and other hazards mainly using my peripheral vision, it was possible to read at the same time, thus adding 20-30 minutes’ reading time to my day. Now, when I have a total of 50 minutes a day walking to and from stations, the routes are not conducive to it – too many roads to cross, too many people and too much noise in some places, too quiet and lonely in others, so I feel I need my attention on my surroundings. Occasionally I catch the bus from work to the station on the way home, it takes about the same amount of time as walking because the bus gets caught in traffic, but I get through a couple of chapters of my book. Trouble is, I need the exercise so I have to find other methods of shoe-horning more reading time into my day. People have pointed out to me over the years that there’s more to life than reading, and they’re right. There’s writing, too.

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2 comments

  1. I think the only book I’ve ever re-read is neuromancer and frankly that was when I was 15 for the sex scene (my copy flaps open right at the apropro page ). I think like you, there are too many books I’ve never read to re-read the ones I have again, though I can barely remember anything of books I have read so to save trees I should just read the same 5 books cyclically. its really annoying actually cos I can’t have proper conversations about books, beyond me going “yeah i read that, it was good..I forgot it”

    and 45 books a year is a lot for me, I maybe only got through 5 last year, I’m too lazy, and call of duty is so damn addictive….

    can I personally say though that I’m extremely glad you don’t read on the walk to work, the traffic is dangerous enough as it is!

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