Is a book the same book-or a reader the same reader-the second time around? The seventeen authors in this witty and poignant collection of essays all agree on the answer: Never.
The editor of Rereadings is Anne Fadiman, and readers of her bestselling book Ex Libris (FSG, 1998) will find this volume especially satisfying. Her chosen authors include Sven Birkerts, Allegra Goodman, Vivian Gornick, Patricia Hampl, Phillip Lopate, and Luc Sante; the objects of their literary affections range from Pride and Prejudice to Sue Barton, Student Nurse. Each has selected a book or a story or a poem--or even, in one case, the lyrics on the back of the Sgt. Pepper album--that made a deep impression in his or her youth, and reread it to see how it has changed in the interim. (Of course, what has really changed is the reader.)
These essays are not conventional literary criticism; they are about relationships. The relationship between reader and book is a powerful one, and as these writers attest, it evolves over time. Rereadings reveals at least as much about the reader as about the book: each is a miniature memoir that focuses on that most interesting of topics, the protean nature of love. And as every bibliophile knows, no love is more life-changing than the love of a book.
Former American Scholar editor Fadiman (Ex Libris) has drawn from a column in that journal for a charming collections of essays on the varied ways book lovers read. The best of these entries Arthur Krystal's return to H.C. Witwer's boxing novel, The Leather Pushers; Dianna Kappel-Smith's assessment of the field guide that stirred an interest in the natural world; Michael Upchurch's consideration of Christina Stead's fictional financial world are written by masters of the essay form, revealing themselves at the different phases of their lives through the act of reading. All of the writers share a gratitude for the books that helped them navigate their lives, especially over the rocky shoals of adolescence. The return to beloved works is not always simple, especially when readers come to see the faults in books that they so closely identified with years earlier. As many note, the act of reading changes over the course of a lifetime, from an easy engagement with plot and character to an awareness of politics and style. They may bemoan their own loss of literary innocence, but each finds a new way to appreciate the texts that have accompanied them through life.