Travis sells junk. That’s what he does for a living.
But he wasn’t going to sell me a hardcover of “Gone With the Wind” with a torn dust jacket. He wanted to keep it in circulation (my words). He thought a book should be read and reread, not sit on a shelf (his words).
“No problem,” I said. “I always reread books.”
That and $2 sealed the deal, even if I was stretching the truth: I don’t always reread books. I always reread good books.
It may be the recovering English major in me, but as soon as I finish a really good book — the kind that makes you sad that it’s over — I start reading it again. From the beginning.
The second time around I’m looking for all the stuff I missed — the foreshadowing, the subtle emergence of themes, the character development, the bookended start and finish. No longer needing to follow a plot, I’m free to immerse myself in the finer points of the writing.
When I’m done rereading, I might even give it another go, this time only the best bits from the pages on which I turned a corner down. (These aren’t library books. They’re mine. Bought and paid for.)
Thrice-read books often win a spot in my special bookcase. Small, kept in our bedroom upstairs, it’s home to my all-time favorites.
When I’m having trouble getting into the book I’m reading or when I just can’t take the leap of faith required to crack open a new book, I turn to my special bookshelf and take out “Human Being” by Christopher Morley, “Middlesex” by Jeffrey Eugenides, “The Rise of Silas Lapham,” by William Dean Howells, “The Lonely Polygamist” by Brady Udall, “The Great Fire” by Shirley Hazzard or anything by the Brontes, Larry McMurtry or Edith Wharton (except “The House of Mirth”).
And then I re-re-re-read. There is no mystery. No gradual unfolding of a fresh story. No thrill ride of unsuspected plot twists. No new characters to meet. There’s something else, something different and, maybe just as good: the joy of a well-told tale, the comfort of the familiar, the luxury of sitting with a beautifully rendered piece of art.
I once had a colleague who hailed from Somewhere Else. She was asked to join a book club in her downtown condo building, but complained loudly about their first selection: “The Great Gatsby.”
“Why would I want to read an old book like that?” she demanded.
“Uh, because Fitzgerald is from here?” I volunteered. “And it’s, you know, considered a classic of American literature.”
She wanted what was new, because that was better, she said.
Reading — and, for me, rereading — isn’t a new vs. old thing. It’s about falling in love with a book — and occasionally finding, to your great surprise, that you’re still in love. Years, maybe even decades, later.
It’s about being able to reread the first lines of S.E. Hinton’s “The Outsiders” (“When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.”) with the same sense of anticipation, the same sweet ache of recognition I felt when I first read the book at 13.
It’s about falling into another world.
It’s about the words.
Just ask Travis.
Laurie Hertzel is on vacation.