Rereading Reconsidered

Is rereading a memory exercise or a refinement of discovery?

ReadingNow that I have left academia far behind me, I seldom reread a novel. Often it is because I regret having wasted too much time on it already. There are a couple of authors I reread with some regularity: James Joyce and Alain Robbe-Grillet come to mind. But for the most part I would imagine that I reread more books because I have forgotten that I read them before than I reread them on purpose.

Let’s face it: there are too many books waiting to be read to spend time rereading a familiar text.

It’s interesting to contemplate that a reader who rereads favorite books is so often also a reader who cannot abide by “spoilers.” But why would you want to reread a book?

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What Is Your Choice For the Best Novel of All Time?

bookwormWe’ve all heard the opinion of an avid reader who declares that such-and-such is the best novel ever written. Of course the selection is generally one of the reader’s most recent reads (if not the last book they read) and the best novel ever written has a tendency to change as more books are read. Even if this scenario is not too scientific, it also is not concerned with the best novel but more so with the most liked novel.

We generally mistake our enjoyment of a novel with the quality of a novel.

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Is this the end of the challenge?

I think the reading challenge has jumped the shark so I am going to do some radical combinations and rearrangements and finish it up now.

First, is there a book I tell people I’ve read, but haven’t actually finished? Yes there is but I always admit that I have a hundred pages to go. Still, if I never get back to it (especially since I will inevitably have to start back at the beginning) I tell people I have read Bleak House by Charles Dickens. I suspect my favorite scene in any book is in those unread hundred pages since I can’t think of anything better.

And now for some favorites:  my favorite book I read in school was Ulysses by James Joyce which was also my favorite fiction book and if you read back a few posts, it was the adult book I read the most and going all the way back to the first post in this challenge, it was my favorite book. It looks like I have a strong attraction to Ulysses and if I had a coffee table I would surely have a copy of Ulysses conveniently placed for my guests to remind themselves of a passage during a heated conversation on Bloomsday (I also have a signed copy of Hillerman Country if a guest is more attracted to Chinle Wash than to a Dublin public house).

Just a few short posts back I gave a list of everything I am currently reading but I will be more specific and suggest that I am concentrating on A Frolic of His Own by William Gaddis. I am reading this for the Experimental Fiction group and cannot say enough good things about Gaddis’ abilities as a novelist (there was even an earlier post about Gaddis). I also previously suggested that the next book I was going to read (start-to-read) was Ferdydurke by Witold Gombrowicz. Does it seem that these question are overlapping and repetitious?

And in conclusion, there is no such thing as non-fiction. Some books are more representative of life but they are still all fiction. Only life is life: writing about life is fiction.

Okay. What do I win?

The Resurrection of Tim Finnegan

Next month the Experimental Fiction group at Yahoo (XFX) is dedicating the time to reading Finnegans Wake by James Joyce. I read FW a few years back and although I chuckled a bit, I was generally lost in the vision that the author presents. I usually suggest to other readers that they just plunge into Joyce and leave all those secondary books of annotations and analysis for the third or fourth reading.

My first experience with FW was as an undergraduate. One of the more feisty professors I had had done major research on the novel when he was at Penn and he reiterated the advice he received at that time:  Read lots of comic books. Well, in today’s world comic books are collected for their investment value, far different from my experience in the fifties when comic books would make the rounds and end up disintegrating in the back of our closets when we grew up and went away to college. So I’m not sure what is the best way to prepare for FW any more:  DVDs of The Benny Hill Show? Old Warner Brothers cartoons? The GOP debates?

Over the years I have collected several copies of FW and spent many an evening flipping through the book and reading a little here and a little there, but it wasn’t until about 2005 that I read the book from cover to backside. So I will consider this reading in December my second and hope that there are others reading along even if they don’t have too much to say. Perhaps for this work we should be looking less for erudite analysis and more for questions and guidance … Finnegans Wake is a challenge.

Note also that the title is Finnegans Wake; use of the possessive, as in Finnegan’s Wake, refers to the ballad by that name and not to Joyce’s novel.