Friday, September 18, 2009

Reading and Rereading

     I’ve been collecting books for as long as I can remember, but once upon a time my horizons didn’t stretch much beyond Enid Blyton, even then I had a definite preference for anything set on an Island, regularly rereading my favourites. When I was 11 I discovered ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ and read it 17 times (not kidding) in a row. A year later I had moved on to Dorothy L. Sayers and Georgette Heyer, both of whose books have had repeated readings. By the time I was 13 it was Gavin Maxwell, and now my original copy of ‘Ring of Bright Water’ has fallen apart with wear.

    Heyer encouraged me to engage with the classics. Her books didn’t read like the other historical romances I tried, possibly because by the time I was reading them, they where already 60 years old, and felt more period then the 80’s bodice rippers I came across, better written too. Thanks to Heyer I read Austen, various Bronte’s, Elliot and Mrs Gaskell, all more or less as I bought them, but at some point around this period things started to get out of control...

     This is when I started to buy more books then I could keep up with reading, and as the year’s progress the problem has only got worse. I’m not apologising for it; not really, I know I will eventually read all these books. Actually it’s more the case that eventually I will probably read most of these books, but you know what I mean. It strikes me as pure common sense (and in no way self indulgent, oh no) to collect for the future like a book obsessed squirrel.

    What has become something of an issue is the guilt that I feel when I pick up an old favourite to reread. There are so many new books to get through - what am I doing? A month or so ago I reread all the Harry Potters, it felt like going on holiday, I enjoyed it tremendously, and arguably got a deeper appreciation of the collected works of J K Rowling. What I didn’t get was started on Trollope; something I’ve had in mind to do since the spring.

    Increasingly I make the effort to resist the lure of old favourites and go on to something new. Sympathetic reading groups, and the discovery of so many likeminded bloggers out there have made the list of books I want to read, and have waiting to be read longer then I could ever once have imagined. My dilemma such as it is, is this – do I carry on keeping books I read once, and probably won’t read again? Space is short, shouldn’t I release them to a second hand shop for others to enjoy? The fact is I wouldn’t let go without a fight, the sort of buying ban that might let me catch up seems inconceivable, but increasingly I find myself paralysed with indecision between the book I want to read, and the one I know I should read next.

    It’s by no means the biggest problem I have in my life, but it’s taking some thought.


  1. Oh dear, it is as if you are in my mind voicing my thoughts. I know the books that I should be reading just now but I also know the ones I want to be reading. I love to collect books and cannot bear to part with those on the shelf that I may not or probably will not read again. I want a holiday with Harry Potter again; I reread (and listened to Stephen Fry's dulcet tones narrating) the first six a couple of months ago and desperately want to curl up with The Deathly Hallows for what will be my first reread. Sigh, too many books, too little time and too many books, too little space.

  2. I have the exact same dilemma all the time. I long to reread some old favourites, but I have such a large pile (well over 100) of books I've bought and not read to get through as it is. It feels absurd to go back when I need to keep ploughing forward, but I think those special books do need revisiting from time to time. I always reread Jane Eyre once a year because it gives me such pleasure.

    What a wonderful collection of books you have. We share many, and there are others I've never heard of and will be seeking out. Alice Thomas Ellis in particular I have never heard of before.

  3. Ellis is hard line catholic, which is one of the things that attracts me to her - she has very strong opinions, sometimes expressed in a way that's a bit like hitting a brick wall. Absolutly worth reading when you come across though.

  4. Ah, the unanswerable question. My policy at the moment is simply to read the books that call to me the loudest.

  5. I find it helps to take a deep breath and then read(or re-read) whatever seems most appealing.

    After ignoring the guilt about all the unread books in my house, I've really enjoyed re-reading Trollope's Barsetshire books this year.

    As for keeping books I may never read again, I live in hope I will do so. If not I may at least read bits of, refer to or recommend them. There's also Proust's idea that "The sight of the cover of a book one has previously read retains, woven into the letters of its title, the moonbeams of a far-off summer night."

  6. I have the same dilemma...I have over 100 books waiting to be read, and sometimes it feels like I am about to be overwhelmed by my books.

    I do like to keep books that I have enjoyed, just in case one should ever want to go back to them. I often end up buying copies of library books that I have enjoyed for this reason.

    With my Virago project I am collecting lots of books, and some of them I am definitely not going to read again. But I will probably keep them.

  7. I have this problem, too. And for some odd reason, my desire to go back and reread an old favorite generally happens while I'm reading a new book that is really quite good.