I have finished reading Rereadings: Seventeen writers revisit books they love, edited by Anne Fadiman. The re-read materials, among others, include Pride and Prejudice, a botanical field guide, and in one case, even the lyrics on a Beatles album. I had very personal reactions to most of the essays (as I note below) and enjoyed the book thoroughly. If you like books (and reading/rereading them), here is a book you cannot afford to miss.
In her foreword, Fadiman says that the greatest essay on rereading is William Hazlitt’s On reading old books; Fadiman quotes the passage about Hazlitt reading Tom Jones; I liked the opening sentences of the essay too, a lot:
I hate to read new books. There are twenty or thirty volumes that I have read over and over again, and these are the only ones that I have any desire ever to read at all.
Patricia Hampl writes about her using Cuticura soap since her favourite writer Katherine Mansfield used it (I remember seeing Cuticura ads in Tam magazines of 1950s and 1960s). It also reminded me of the other trivia, namely, that Bade Gulam Ali Khan always used Mysore Sandal soap and MS, Pears–I know I read about Khan in Sheila Dhar’s book, but the information about MS, I forget–though I did not go looking for Mysore Sandal or Pears after learning these information, I did feel happy that at some point, I was a regular user of both those brands.
There are also some interesting theories about the temperament required for reading; here is what David Samuels has to say:
Reading requires a loner’s temperament, a high tolerance for silence, and an unhealthy preference for the company of people who are imaginary or dead. … It also requires patience, or what my high school gym teacher (…) used to call “good-old-fashioned stick-to-itiveness”.
I would tend to agree; but for the stick-to-itiveness, I do not think I would have finished reading Ivanhoe in the original when I was in my high school.
The following passage by Luc Sante reminded me of my father’s favourite Sanskrit quote, namely, Pustakam Hasta Lakshanam –a book is the mark of a hand:
I read the book slowly, in part it was dense and in part because I wanted to be seen reading it. I wore the book as much as I read about it…
I wore the book — Wow!
Finally, of course, reading Rereadings lead me to the obvious question–if I have to re-reading, which is the book that I would choose? After considerable thought, I have decided that I would like to read either ஸைக்கோ ஸாரநாதன் (Psycho Saaranathan) of கி ராஜேந்திரன் (Ki Rajendiran) or ஸென்ட்ரல் (Central) of பி வி ஆர்்் (PVR)–not because they are classics, but because I am curious to know what they would tell about me–why is it that I loved reading these two so much (among others, which included பொன்னியின் செல்வன் (Ponniyin selvan) of கல்கி (Kalki), Pride and Prejudice, and Emma–I read them every vacation–quarterly, half-yearly and summer–every year–for at least three or four years). Someday, I might even reread one of these books, and write about it here!