When cartoonist and author Roz Chast was asked to name five books she’d never part with or would take with her on a desert island, here’s her response:
Tender is the Night and The Great Gatsby
The Magic Mountain
The Talented Mr. Ripley
War and Peace
“The first four because I’ve read them all at least twice, and have loved them more on repeated readings. There seems to be something in all of them that reveals more of themselves upon not only repeated readings, but on letting five or 10 years pass in between rereadings. The first time I read Anna Karenina, when I was 17, all I cared about was Anna and Vronsky. I completely missed the fact that she was an opium addict. I really didn’t understand much of the politics. Reading it a second time was like reading a whole different book.”
Just realized that our friend Roz listed six books, not five, but, hey, who’s counting? What I love about her comment is that reading a story you love again after a long break is “like reading a whole different book.”
I once read about an author who rereads one particular novel that he admires every year — and every time, he finds more layers and meanings. To me, that’s what a classic is — a book that endures and ripens. As readers, we ripen, too. We bring more life experience, more compassion, and more insight into our reading — and add to a book’s inherent value by bringing more to the page.
Just recently, I pulled a taped version of Emily Bronte’s wonderful Wuthering Heights from a shelf and listened to it. Like Roz, when I first read it as a teenager, it was the story’s doomed romance that captured me. This time around, I was struck by the artful way Emily used her story’s physical setting to reveal her character’s roiling emotions. I also found her use of not one, but two different narrators fascinating. By making them a reader’s stand-in, she isolates and intensifies her story’s emotional pitch. What an inspired decision by a first-time author! There’s something here to ponder and learn from.
Have you found that rereading stories you love lets you learn more about what makes them tick? If so, I’d love to hear about it. Write on!