Category Archives: Helen DeWitt

Loved and Outgrew, Hated and Admired Later

Helen DeWitt, at a reporter’s prompting, lists some of the books she most likes to return to:

Rereading is important for writers because people in the publishing industry constantly give advice couched in terms of helping the reader.   If you are not only a reader, or even a rereader, but a rerererererererererereader, you know this is complete bollocks. “The” reader does not exist.  The 9-year-old who read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe 50 times in a year is genetically identical to the 54-year-old who has read Invisible Cities more times than she can count (if certainly not 50).  The 16-year-old who read Pride and Prejudice as historical romance (I know Austen was forbidden, but really) is genetically identical to the 54-year-old who reads it for its social analysis, its savagery.  (The 16-year-old would have had no interest in Goffman or Bourdieu; the 54-year-old sees Austen as their intellectual cousin.)  As a rereader you can’t be an amnesiac: you KNOW there were books you loved and outgrew, books you hated first time, admired 20 years later.

 

I don’t get to return to books as much as I’d like, but one of the most enjoyable reading experiences I had last year was revisiting Edward P. Jones’ two short story collections, this time reading them in parallel since the stories “talk” to each other. (That is, the first story in Lost in the City shares characters with the first story in All Aunt Hagar’s Children, and so forth.) I recall enjoying Wendy Lesser‘s book on the subject, Nothing Remains the Same, though it’s been a decade since I’ve read it and I owe it another visit.