Monday, October 12, 2009

In Praise of Oft-Read Books

Come, dear readers, let us sing the praises of the oft-read book! Let us consider worn covers, split spines, pages brittled and yellowed by the years. Let us think back to familiar volumes discovered in childhood, high school or college, volumes with which we whiled away bedtimes and summer afternoons and periods in the library intended for study. Let us recall paragraphs underlined in pencil and corners dog-eared until they split clean off. And let us remember all the joy they brought us.

Because we lose it so easily now, don't we? Delight disappears into obligation and ephemera. Now we buy textbooks and technical manuals to stay on top of the heap at work, memoirs and motivational treatises so we have something to say at the watercooler. These titles are always changing and ever new, usually decent and sometimes quite good. They're also almost always free of that old, familiar delight. We've been trained to select according to the dictates of bestseller lists, morning-news hosts and Oprah.

Forget them, at least for the moment. We can read for more than novelty or relevance. Surprise will have departed long before we finish our tenth time through a tome, but other things emerge -- nuances of character, theme, metaphor, symbol, plot shape, an author's thought life. We simply can't unearth all of a book's riches in a single sitting. It's reading by reading, spadeful by spadeful, sifting through the silt yet another time to find the nuggets we've missed. When we crack the cover one more time, we may find that we're digging up more than just literary gems. We could be excavating our forgotten joy.

(Picture: CC 2008 by

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