I really believe what Nabokov said about reading. “Curiously enough, one cannot read a book; one can only reread it. A good reader, a major reader, and active and creative reader is a rereader.” Of course, it's not necessary that Nabokov approve of anyone as a reader, but I do feel that what he says is true in some ways. I think, more especially with modern literature, it's necessary to be familiar with the whole so that you can fully appreciate the parts. I also believe that one's perception of the details and their significance grows with each reading. In my first semester at university I had a charismatic professor for analysis of literature who asked us to read each text at least three times before writing about it and said that he was being generous with our time, that the average reader needed at least five readings to appreciate a text.
I think about my relationship with a book. If I've read a book once, I feel I'm only acquainted with it. And then as I read it again and again, I get to know it better. I wouldn't say that I'm truly intimate with any book. I've read nothing more than five times, and as best I can recall, I've only read Wuthering Heights and Notes from the Underground so many times. Of course, nobody would read a book they really disliked so many times. And yet, it took me four times to appreciate Persuasion. I wouldn't have read it so many times if I hadn't enjoyed Austen's other novels so much. And I have sometimes enjoyed a book much more on the second reading than the first. It happened to me with Mdm Bovary and Catch 22. I think I probably just read them too fast the first time. And sometimes the circumstances of one's life are too much of a distraction or concentration is bad for some reason, at least with me.
I have a sneaking suspicion that Nabokov meant immediate rereading, which I've rarely done. I do think it would be better, but I'm usually just not willing. I also admire people who read some book every year, and yet, I don't do that either. Normally, I would say that at least five years and more likely 8 to 10 pass between my readings of books. I last read Villette around 2000. Little as I'm enjoying Tomcat Murr, I think about reading it again soon, reading each part separately, but I probably won't do it.
Most people just don't have the time to reread, I guess. I am rather fiercely protective of my reading time. I still wish I had more, but I manage pretty well. I'm helped by my reluctance to read contemporary books. Some of them must be great, but how can I know for fifty years or so. I run a great risk of wasting reading time on books of the moment if I read them now. But I have reached a point at which I'm more open to them.
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