Re-reading

October 2, 2013

I wonder if other people have a problem deciding what to read next? I have a large pile of new books waiting to be read, and an equally large pile of books waiting to be re-read. Sometimes I really can’t decide while pile to head for. There are times when, after reading a book for the first time, I find myself feeling ‘why did I bother?’ or ‘what was the point of that?’, in the sense that I would have been better off working through the re-reads, rather than trying new stuff, on the grounds that there is very little that’s interesting being written now… Then I think that it’s my age, and that I’m turning into a dead colonel before I’m sixty.

But… I do feel that I’m becoming much choosier about what I buy now: fewer books, usually in carefully chosen genres, very little current affairs, mainly travel and fiction. If a book stays on my wish list for a long time, then that’s a sign I probably will end up buying and reading it. It certainly saves quite a bit of money.

The pleasures of re-reading: like meeting up with an old friend, looking at a favourite scene from a new angle, relaxing somewhere I know is comfortable. And the excitement of discovery of something new is the other side of the coin.

Then I think I’m a book addict, and should go out and get a real life, remembering that my father used to tell me that you can’t get everything out of books. He was right, of course, and yet, reading allows you vicariously to experience life from so many different perspectives, and you DO learn a lot from it. But there are times when I feel that reading is TOO cosy an activity and represents a fleeing from the real world…

I worry that there isn’t enough time in one life to read everything, and there isn’t, of course, which makes it OK for there to be some quite major gaps in what I have read, and some territories where I feel no inclination to tread. It is rarer that someone turns me on to a writer I’d never have considered myself; the last time this happened was when one of my former students introduced me to e e cummings.

Sometimes I feel oppressed by being surrounded by so many books (there are between two and three thousand dotted around the house, in almost every room) and feel I ought to get rid of a lot of them: after all, how many of them, realistically, am I ever going to get back to? On the other hand, books have been my life in so many ways, so why should I expel them?

It’s good to have the time to spend on this sort of idle speculation…

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