Sunday, April 19, 2009

Rereading Is Like Falling in Love Again

I recently began rereading John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath — right after finishing John Connolly's The Book of Lost Things for the second time in three years. Of course, this isn't the first time I've reread something. I've read John Irving's The World According to Garp numerous times. (And what is it I seem to have for books written by people named John?) But it's interesting to go back to a world, an era, a setting that was familiar once and becomes even more detailed and nuanced again.

In the case of The Book of Lost Things, I had been singing the book's praises so much that I initially worried it might not be as good as I'd remembered. But I loved it once again. A coming-of-age tale set against well known fairy tales and laced with grim battles that would keep young children stocked with a month of nightmares, TBOLT vividly traces the path of an angry boy through a world of his fears and fantasies. Connolly, a gifted writer, can choose words that linger like a scar. And when one faces man-like wolves and crooked men that personify evil, that gift gets ample use.

Steinbeck was one of my first "adult" loves as far as literature goes. While some teens were discovering J.D. Salinger's Holden Caulfield, I was getting enwrapped in Steinbeck's simple declarative sentences. I'd forgotten where Grapes began; in my mind it was the scene of the "land turtle" that gets flipped onto its back, a symbol of the traveling Okies struggling to survive both the Depression and the Dust Bowl. And while I've been reintroduced to preacher Jim Casy, I'd forgotten how he recalled his trysts with the girls after preaching them into a fervor. (After all, it's been decades since I read this work.) But it's still the same gritty, difficult era that I remember and which still catches me surprised.

Perhaps saying that rereading a book is like falling in love again is going too far, but it's certainly enough fun that such dreams and sentiments are within the realm of possibility. And that's what good fiction provides.


Joe said...

As of last year, I decided to make a conscious effort to re-read a small amount of books each year. Last year I re-read Catcher in the Rye and The Killer Angels for the first time in about 3 or 4 years (Hey, I'm 20. That's a bit of time right there). Strangely, Catcher in the Rye didn't grip me quite the same way it did the first time through and that made me kind of sad. I suppose it's inevitably more potent when you're sixteen.

I want to go back and read To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, and The Red Badge of Courage this year.

If only my reading list was shorter!

Matt Sinclair said...

Thanks for coming back, Joe. And when you're twice 20, the reading list has only gotten longer. But I think you're right to reread favorite books, and To Kill a Mockingbird is another I'll revisit. It's almost a perfect book, and I'm not sure what I'd change. Great story, great characters. Harper Lee wrote an American masterpiece.

I've also heard of people who reread the Lord of the Rings trilogy annually. I loved those books and have read them a few times, but I couldn't do it every year.