I finished Anne Fadiman’s Rereadings the other day. For those of you who have read Fadiman’s Ex Libris, this book is not written by her, it is edited by her. She does have a wonderful opening essay though. Other than that, it is seventeen writers talking about books they have re-read. The essays originally appeared in “slightly different” form in The American Scholar of which Fadiman is an editor.
I’ve mentioned the book a couple of times because it is so fun. And like any book where readers talk about the experience of reading, it makes me excited and jabbery. Thank goodness writing about something keeps me from being too jabbery; saves us both from embarrassment. There were some essays I liked better than others–David Samuels, Patricia Hampl, and Sven Birkerts (coincidentally the first three essays)–but there wasn’t one essay that I didn’t like at all. That’s a rarity, at least for me, as it seems that there is always one essay I find terrible.
One odd thing about the book, I felt as though I had read it before. Seriously. You know how if you are reading a book you have read before but it’s been a really long time and you don’t remember much about it there are still words and phrases, moments that resonate, where you know you’ve read the book before? For me it’s a sort of mental vibration like from a tuning fork and then a fluttery feeling in my stomach, but not a sick kind of flutter more like a recognition flutter.
Anyway, I kept having these moments at various times throughout the book. I had them so frequently that I was convinced that I have read this book before, that I was re-reading Rereadings. So I checked my books read database (Don’t worry, it’s nothing fancy, just the database program that comes with Apple’s AppleWorks suite. It’s a crappy database program but it’s adequate, still if anyone knows of a good and inexpensive relational database program for Macs, let me know), so I checked my database which has information on books I’ve read going back to 1995 and Rereadings is not in it. The book was published in 2005 and my paperback edition in 2006 so there is no way I could have read it before 1995. And I don’t read American Scholar so there is no way I could have read these essays there. Weird.
I will leave you with a quote from Allegra Goodman’s essay that I really liked and think is a good description of what re-reading is:
I think unfolding is what rereading is about. Like pleated fabric, the text reveals different parts of its pattern at different times. And yet every time the text unfolds, in the library, or in bed, or upon the grass, the reader adds new wrinkles. Memory and experience press themselves into each reading so that each encounter informs the next.