What if we spent September re-reading our favorite books, like "Housekeeping"?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Readers of this blog (and of Handling the Truth) know how much a certain Alyson Hagy means to me—the quality of her work, her character, her mind. Not long ago she mentioned that she was re-reading Housekeeping, one of my very favorite novels of all time. Oh, I thought. And lifted my copy of the book from its shelf.

The extraordinary thing about re-reading a much-loved novel is realizing how brand new the novel can feel, even the fourth time around. For here I am this morning, turning the early pages of Marilynne Robinson's exquisite story, and thinking: How could I have forgotten this? Or this? And this? Yes, I remember the train and the lake, Sylvie and her flowers, the laundry being hung on the line. But I did not remember how swiftly and gracefully Nelson moves through genealogy and across landscape. There's that impeccable first line, "My name is Ruth." Then an indication of grandmother, sisters-in-law, a daughter, and Edmund Foster—all in seven lines. Then a sudden shift to place and to Edmund Foster's childhood home, described in great detail, "no more a human stronghold than a grave."

All this, and we haven't turned a page.


It's almost as if the novel has broken into tangents before it has even begun, and this (among so much) is what I didn't think about before (or maybe I forgot thinking about it before so that I read it as brand new)—how Housekeeping declares itself by means of a branching interiority right from the start.

Do I see that now because of something Alyson said in a note to me, or would I have seen it anyway, and is it because of the number of books that I have read between my third read of Housekeeping years ago and now, or because of my age, or because I am looking for something new in the stories I read?

I don't know, but I do wonder this: What if I decided to re-read my favorite two dozen books? What would I learn—about stories and about me?

What if we did?

A project to ponder, as September unfolds.


Serena said...

I've re-read Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen multiple times since I first discovered it as a teen, when I just saw it as a romance. I discovered so much nuance in Austen since then, from her dialogue that bucks convention of the time, to her poking fun at the clergy, et. al. It's amazing what you can see when you re-read something, is that brought on by age, more knowledge, or just a different perspective, I have no idea, but it is fascinating.

Victoria Marie Lees said...

I love re-reading my favorite fiction and non-fiction books as I always gain something new. I think it's because I have grown since the last reading, grown through my own writing endeavors and through other people's books I've read since.
Thanks so much, Beth, for your insight into why you re-read books.
...now if I can just find the time...
~Victoria Marie Lees

Katrina said...

I'm pretty sure I could be content re-reading forever. I'd begin with Heidi, and work my way through the many books that have left indelible impressions. I re-read Housekeeping a couple of years ago, and it was as if for the first time, even though I'd loved it when it was published. And I re-read Light Years by James Salter every few years, still, and am more deeply moved each time. Lovely post, Beth.

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