Re-reading has always felt indulgent to me in the best of ways. When I was studying literature it was practically breaking the rules unless I was doing so for comprehension of some unnecessarily overwrought text, when reading for pleasure was worthy of a laugh unless you were arguing that you actually enjoyed imagining the Panopticon into every nineteenth century English parlor (which happened in a class, once, but the tally of incidents in which I felt like a dirty fiction writer daring to enjoy artistry without critical theory are too many for any one blog to recount, and certainly not this one).
But I’ve always done it, and I do it now, too, flying in the face of all of what’s great and new and should be read; some books are just old friends.
Revisiting Anne Shirley of late has made me marvel at how little I needed to go on as a ten-year-old reader, how dearly dreaming talks of mischief and the paper-heady scent of apple blossoms could render me. I’ll tell you, almost nothing happens on the page. What does is almost always relayed to Marilla over plum cake hours after, unless it’s a certain titian-headed someone falling off of a roof, or nearly drowning playing at The Lady of Shalott. I’ve got a kindred spirit of my own in K, and the wild ramblings of Anne and Diana are just as I remember them, as I remember ours as sweetly.
What isn’t the same the second time around is Tolkien. I remember struggling and abandoning the first book after Bilbo’s party before I’d seen the films, and only after managing to get through the trilogy on the merits of the cast. I swore Aragorn had no personality and the hobbits little more than appetites, but there’s something to be said for re-reading The Fellowship of the Ring with ten years to season the pages and my temperament. The prose at times feels positively lush. If I’ve told my husband once I’ve expressed to him a dozen times my shock over how much I am actually enjoying this re-reading, which is a testament, perhaps, to what an unworthy jerk I was at nineteen. But really, who isn’t?
Besides, I can’t trust anyone who fantasized they were an edgy Elizabeth Wakefield. No matter how cute Conner McDermott was written.