Monday, December 16, 2013

On Rereading... and Disappointment.

I used to be a massive rereader as a child, but that was mostly due to not being allowed (or having the money) to buy as many books I wanted (or check them out of the library) so I reread because I had nothing left to read. Once I was an adult and started to out-purchase my reading ability, I mostly stopped, with a few exceptions (Laura Ingalls Wilder and Norma Klein being the big ones). In the last few years, I have made a concerted effort to reread a few classics such as The Cricket in Times Square, Pride & Prejudice, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, and The Joy Luck Club. It's been a mostly-fun experience as I get to relive wonderful moments from my past and reread beloved books. But recently, I am reconsidering.

I just reread Summer Sisters by Judy Blume. It was okay. I really can see how my 24-year-old self loved it, but it is not geared towards 39-year-olds. In fact, some parts of it now annoy me, and I didn't like how it perpetuates certain expectations, like marrying one's high school boyfriend (or summer love), as if they are realistic or even good ideas, and how out of college everyone gets "real" job right away without out time working retail or waiting tables. I think it sets up unreasonably high expectations and slightly unhealthy ones for readers in their early-20s. But I was okay with the book, given that I am no longer its target audience and it still held my attention and was a fast read.

And now I am trying to reread The Great Santini by Pat Conroy. I admit, I was worried about this book. While I loved Mr. Conroy's early novels, I was not blown away by his last two. I was hoping that he had fallen into that bestseller trap of being too big for his britches and not taking editing (and/or being assigned to a very junior editor who was too cowed to do much editing.) But I heard from several friends that they loved those two novels, which made me worry that the issue isn't a change in his writing, but a change in what I like. Still, I loved his two earlier memoirs and he has a brand-new one out that I've been dying to read. It is a non-fiction version of The Great Santini called The Death of Santini, and finally tells the truth of his abusive asshole of a father. So I thought rereading the earlier novel that covers the same territory was a good idea before reading the memoir. And I am sad to report I am having a very hard time.

I am finding the book to be rambling, wordy, overly-descriptive, and I am struggling. It is not reading fast. I fell asleep while reading it on the plane. I am postponing picking it up each night. I am just about half-way through and I see it taking me another full week to finally finish it. Do I keep going? Do I give up? And if I give up, do I not read The Death of Santini? What does it say about me that I used to love this book and I don't anymore? It makes me doubt and question my taste. This is what I have always feared about rereading.

I have a shelf of books that I have hung onto through multiple moves, multiple purges, and Pat Conroy's books have always had a place on that shelf. I am now considering adding them all to my pile for the book swap I'm going to next month, along with Summer Sisters. It's sad to me. It's like letting go of a part of me. I know there's an argument to be made for growing, evolving, and having more mature taste, but I wanted to think that they truly favorite books would stand the test of time.

On the other hand, it isn't a bad thing to make space on my bookshelves. I could certainly use it. But I am now VERY reluctant to reread anything else. I was planning to reread a Jane Austen over Christmas but now I think I won't. There's no way I'll feel the same way about Persuasion or Emma, but I just don't feel strong enough to take the chance. I should probably be thankful it's taken so long for me to run across rereads that have truly disappointed me, but it feels like a real loss.

1 comment:

Christy (A Good Stopping Point) said...

I also don't reread as much as I did when I was child. I have had mixed results in rereading. Sometimes a book I read in high school that I liked, I ended up loving when I re-read as an adult (e.g. A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute). Sometimes a book I loved even just a few years ago didn't seem quite so magical the next time. That said, I would think that Austen would stand up to a re-read, especially if it's been a while. There's some books that reward a second look and some that seem meant for only one time use. And then there are books that are perfect for a certain age, but seem less profound in an older time.