Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Rereading

I'm rereading Othello for the three hundred and thirty-second time (kidding--you know I don't like to count), and there's always something new. This time through I thought more about whether I could direct a production of the play in which Othello and Desdemona never get to consummate their marriage. It would explain how quickly he dismisses Cassio from the service--he's called out of bed before he completes the act, and by the time he finishes with all the paperwork, it's morning (Cassio says to Iago in III,i "the day had broke before we parted"). It would certainly explain why he grows increasingly inarticulate as the play progresses. And it explains the repeated "put out the light" line in a way I don't think I've yet seen it delivered.

I like to reread, and it's not for lack of attention the first time around. The first time I read Jane Eyre I was 14, and it would have been a shame if I hadn't gotten reacquainted with her at least once when I had passed the age she is when she declares "Reader, I married him." The story is more disturbing if you're old enough to have seriously considered getting involved with someone merely because it seemed the right thing to do, rather than because you were head over heels in love with him.

We never get rid of a book at my house. Well, hardly ever. I have sometimes cleaned out a few outdated "how-to" books, like guidebooks for places we've been and child development manuals (What To Expect When You're Expecting went to the library or Goodwill years ago). My guideline for buying books is that I buy them when I think I'll want to reread them. If I like a library book, it goes on my wish list of books to own, so I can dip back in whenever I feel like it. I could never be like the sausage-maker grandfather who pulled out each page as he read it and sailed it out the window of his truck. Although there is a certain alluring freedom in that image.

If you're not in the habit of rereading your books, why do you keep them? Or do you?

21 comments:

kittiesx3 said...

I had to purge when we moved our belongings from our almost 3000 sq ft house in Kansas City to our 1k sq ft apartment here in Boston. That hurt, because I do reread. Unless I got the book solely for a plane ride diversion, in which case it's probably pretty fluffy. Then I leave it in the airport for someone else to use as escapism.

Nicole said...

I have this fantasy in my head of having a library in my apt. Which I guess I do. They're just unfortunately mostly books that I have not read.

I do like to save the good one to eventually re-read and I have been working my way through some of them. In the last year I have re-read Kindred, Pride & Prejudice, and Anne of Green Gables.

Jeanne said...

Elizabeth, I thought about mentioning how books weigh you down in a move, but didn't because I haven't moved in 20 years so what do I know. I remember that movers consistently underestimate the weight of books.
Nicole, I read all the Octavia Butler novels I could find at one point, but I need to read this newer one, Kindred, if you think it's good enough to reread!

Amanda said...

I never used to buy books unless they were classics or ones I'd already read. I've bought a lot lately, and if I don't think I'll reread them at some point, I give them away on bookmooch. There are some books I reread a lot, and others I reread every few years, and some I've never reread but might in the future.

Jeanne said...

Amanda, Bookmooch is a mighty fine idea. It's not something I'm going to do at this point in my life, but I like that it exists.

Lass said...

Until very recently (say, the last three months), I almost never got rid of books. I do re-read but the sheer volume of books I had amassed was becoming untenable...so I purged and gave some away and sold a few. It was very difficult for me.

I was a precocious reader and pretty much nothing was off-limits to me as a child, so I really like to go back to books I've read at various stages of my life - particularly adult books I read as a kid, because what the current me gets out of them is so different than what the 11-year-old me did.

Harriet said...

I'm a book saver and rereader, although many of the books I save I will probably never reread -- there are too many. But I also love being able to browse the shelves and remember each book I've read. It's kind of like a Cliff's notes reread. And you never know when you might need a particular book. I like to be prepared. But it's definitely not just about the content, but the object. We have multiple copies of our favorite books. Sometimes it's because Mr. Spy and I each came to the marriage with our own favorite copies. But sometimes it's because we each individually have multiple copies. Mr. Spy occasionally writes book reviews and they usually send first a paper review copy and then, when it's released, the hard copy. He keeps both, because he likes to save the notes he makes in the paper and likes to have the hard copy for rereading. I have multiple copies of favorites because sometimes I prefer one over the other.

Jeanne said...

Lass, what kind of volume is untenable? Before we moved out of our townhouse in Maryland we had stacks coming out from the shelves along the wall downstairs. Haven't reached that point here yet, which is good, because when the children were younger that would definitely have been "untenable."

Harriet, when we got married, we took our duplicate books and traded them in for other books. Because we knew it was for life!

Joe said...

If you take out the few books I actually do reread, or at least consult from time to time...

(A) Because I'm a packrat. (B) Because I cling to the illusion that I'll reread them - which is probably just a way to deny Reason A. (C) Because they serve to remind me of other books I might like to acquire and/or read some day.

But all of those are things I could override, if I only had da noive. The real answer to your question is (D) Because they're objects which remind me of particular times or people as much or more than their content. Show me what I read, and I'll tell you who I was.

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) said...

I haven't re-read recently, but I still have a really hard time getting rid of books. There's something comforting about having them around, and I like having them on shelves as conversation starters with other people.

Also, not really related to your post -- my best memory of Othello was getting to see the play performed at the Globe theater in London. The actor who played Othello got so close to me I could actually see the spit flying out of his mouth. I think your idea about the marriage consummation would be an interesting way to do the show :)

PAJ said...

I'm the opposite of a pack rat--a compulsive purger--and books are no exception. Sometimes I later miss a particular book, and usually when that happens, I'll go buy another copy, reread the book, and then (sometimes) get rid of that copy. That said, books purchased during college have remained with me lo these many years, and despite the purging, every book shelf in my house is currently filled to capacity, and some are double-stacked.

Libby said...

I love your reading of Othello. And thanks for the link to the sausage-maker's grandfather story. My thesis advisor in college told me a similar one about his own mother. He shook his head as he told it, amazed that he, and English professor, could have come from such a parent. (She didn't throw the pages out the window, but she did throw them out. Saved on bookmarks.)

I'm not very good at purging books, but a bunch of the kids' lower-quality picture books did go during one reorganization, and I'm really going to have to get rid of a bunch of ARCs that I know I'll never read. But is it ethical to donate them somewhere?

Jodie said...

Such an interesting idea about Othello (my favourite Shakespeare play so far) and you mentioned Jane Eyre, it's like you're living my rereading fantasy life right now!

I have great rereading intentions and was a big rereader until I was about 16, but I mostly fail at rereading things maybe because of the horrible knowledge that I may never read every book in the world.

farmlanebooks said...

I have never re-read a book and keep very few books after reading them - I have too many in my TBR pile without keeping anything but my favourites.

I am starting to wonder if I should keep more books, as I am sure I'll want to re-read some things in the future, but for now I have too many unread books.

Jeanne said...

Joe, I love that line "show me what I read, and I'll tell you who I was." Sometimes I can tell it complete with the musical score that was playing in the background.
Kim, They are conversation starters, aren't they?
PAJ, I need some lessons in purging. I've finally gotten to where I can throw away old magazines and some cardboard boxes!
Libby, We should ask around about donating ARCs. My impulse is to say that if you're giving a book away, who's to say that you can't? What else can you do with it--throw it away???
Jodie, Reading every book in the world would be like trying to write Tristram Shandy...
Farmlanebooks, unread books in a pile are potential acquaintances. Already read books are friends.

lemming said...

I'd echo Joe's line. I only keep books I have no intention of rereading if there's a strong reason elsewhere - I have a textbook I'll never reread, but the end papers are full of fun notes and comments.

1438 pounds of books are currently sitting in my garage. I hesitate to ponder the weight of the others.

Jeanne said...

Lemming, I like those end papers full of notes and comments, too. Don't you feel sad when you buy a used book with an inscription to someone else? I have one friend (Miriam) who always writes an inscription, and it's always amusing.

FreshHell said...

I'll have to devote a post of my own to this when I get a chance.

readersguide said...

Somehow, I often seem to give away the books I like best, so the ones left on the shelves are the ones I don't actually like as much, or the ones I haven't read yet. I do love to reread books. You don't have to worry about what is going to happen and you can just enjoy the book as it unfolds.

Colleen said...

"If you're not in the habit of rereading your books, why do you keep them? Or do you??"

Well, I've always been a book hoarder but why and how has begun to change recently.

Before and during my time in the academy, I hoarded books like they were nuts and I was a squirrel with foreknowledge of a very long impending nuclear winter. I had this crazy fear of running out of things to read, even though I lived near several very good libraries and a street just full of bookstores. I collected indiscriminately insofar as if I thought I *might* want to read a book someday, I'd buy it.

Now I own a bookstore and while I still collect my own books, I do so with more purpose in mind. I now buy a book for myself only if I know I'll reread it (because I've read it before), it's impossible to find in the library and I'm *really* sure I want to read it, or because it's an artifact of some sort. For the latter, it needn't be a very pricey artifact but it can't be something I can get just anywhere; in other words, I have to enjoy the challenge of finding it as much as I enjoy the reading of it.

But whatever my motivation, I've always felt that a house without a lot of books is a rather cold and dead one and I don't want to live in a cold, dead house.

Jeanne said...

Colleen, a house without books? It's hard to imagine. I've been told that the police look to see if you have any live houseplants as evidence that you're not a total psychopath. But surely a bookshelf--or lack thereof--would tell more in a shorter time!