A book is a book is a book
“If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.” Oscar Wilde
A good friend of mine once told me that her creative writing writing prof in the MFA program told the class: “We are not writers. We are re-writers.” Our mission in life, then, is not just to rewrite, but to think and to revise. The art of writing lies in analysis, research, thought, and thinking carefully about (a) what we are about to write and (b) what we have just written. As a great Spanish writer once said “I write as I speak and when writing I count my syllables.”
So can the same principle be applied to reading? In my undergraduate poetry courses, one of my wiser profs announced that “It is better to read one poem a hundred times, than a hundred poems once.” Is re-reading better than reading? Good question. But it is what I call a swimming pool question: it has shallow ends and deep ends. Joke – it depends, you see, upon the quality of the material one is reading. For example, does a single reading of the Bible suffice? I read it through, page by page, when I was twelve years old. Was that it? No, I still return to it – the good book – from time to time, selecting, remembering, checking, looking for comfort, advice, or sometimes, pure joy in the sound of the language – King James version, of course.
What other books have I read and re-read? Lazarillo de Tormes, Don Quixote, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The first book in the Harry Potter series – it reminded me of elements of my own childhood, especially the cupboard under the stairs. Been there, done that, got the tee shirt. The Wind in the Willows, Gongora’s Polifemo, Quevedo’s Metaphysical Poems and his Cycle to Lisi. Octavio Paz’s Sunstone / Piedra de Sol, Lorca’s Romancero Gitano, his Poet in New York, and his plays. Platero y yo. Charlotte’s Web. Several of Shakespeare’s plays, including McBeth, Henry V, King Lear, and a couple more. Rudyard Kipling’s Kim and Stalky and Co. Mary Gentle’s Golden Witchbreed. Robert Bly’s Morning Poems, Iron John, The Sibling Society. Unamuno’s The Tragic Sense of Life and his Niebla. Enough, no more. It is not as sweet now as it was before. And there are so many more to which I have returned, again and again.
So, think about all the time wasted on trivial books, books that remained unfinished, books that have never been opened. One person’s vegetarian or vegan’s fare is a carnivore’s poison [sick]. Sometimes a book mirrors our thoughts. Sometimes it challenges us to rethink our lives and our philosophies. Sometimes it comforts us or takes us back into our childhood. And sometimes it just bores us and we cannot finish it.
A rose is a rose is a rose. A book is a book is a book. Or is it? We are not readers – we are re-readers. And if we aren’t, we ought to be. Think about that. Carefully.