Re-Reading Old Books
Why do I so often choose to re-read old books instead of reading new ones? I’m the classic impulse purchaser of books. Anything new catches my eye and I want to look at it, hold it, buy it, read it, find out its secrets. But when I sit down to read, the new books languish in a shiny pile and I pick up something I’ve already read.
I often say that I don’t much care for Dickens. That dislike is based on very shaky logic as I really like the novels I’ve read. But the list of his novels that I have never read is lengthy and contains some of his most highly rated works:
PICKWICK PAPERS (1837)
OLIVER TWIST (1839)
THE OLD CURIOSITY SHOP (1841)
BARNABY RUDGE (1841)
MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT (1843)
DOMBEY AND SON (1848)
DAVID COPPERFIELD (1850)
HARD TIMES (1954)
LITTLE DORRIT (1857)
OUR MUTUAL FRIEND (1865)
THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD (1870)
My excuse for not having read them is that I don’t like Dickens. You see the problem.
And yet I’ve read NICHOLAS NICKLEBY (1839) twice, A TALE OF TWO CITIES (1859) three or four times, A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1843) and GREAT EXPECTATIONS (1861) four or five times, and BLEAK HOUSE (1853) more times than that. I’m reading it again as I watch the Masterpiece Theater made-for-TV movie, which PBS is now broadcasting on Sunday nights.
I’ve never read Faulkner, and yet I’ve repeatedly re-read much of Henry James and Edith Wharton. Thomas Hardy is a mystery to me and yet I’ve read all of Jane Austen and most of Anthony Trollope many times.
I’ve read THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO (1845) numerous times. But until recently, when I got tired of encountering 12-year-olds who knew more about Victor Hugo than I do, I had never read LES MISERABLES (1862.) I was captivated. In fact, I’m thinking about reading it again.
I’m sitting in the living room right now with Mary Gaitskill’s VERONICA (2005) and Zadie Smith’s ON BEAUTY (2005) on one arm of the love seat and the NORTON ANTHOLOGY OF ENGLISH LITERATURE, Volume 2 (2006) – all 3,000 pages of it – on the other. And odds are an hour from now I’ll be engrossed in “Fra Lippo Lippi” or “The Dead.”