On Re-Reading

3 Feb

I often find myself wanting to re-read texts I read and was moved by as a younger adult. It is a delicate thing to do and I am wont to approach texts I have already read with apprehension. There are some books that should belong to our youth and remain there. To re-read a text which has touched us so intimately as to help form us in our younger years is a dangerous, often double-edged sword.

It is whimsical of me to believe that texts come to us at certain moments in our lives for a reason. A personal quirk of mine but I have found that so often a book that I have been meaning to read calls to me at certain moments in my life when I need it the most. So, to re-read a text like this can be disillusioning first of all. To read something at a time when it is not calling to you can make the text seem less magical, less important.

Lately, however, I have been feeling called to a nostalgic reading life. In conversations with friends on books I have loved that I wish they would read and love as well, I am drawn to these texts which found their way into my heart. There are some books which I habitually read every few years or so: The History of Love by Nicole Krauss, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, and New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton (though it has been far too long for this last title to be re-read).

These are my favorites, ones which every time I revisit welcome me back with open and loving arms. But there are others which I have re-read that lose their luster the more I read them: Catcher in the Rye by Salingers, The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald, and, often, books I read as a child (The Secret Garden was much different than I remember).

I decided to give it a try again and I just finished re-reading “The Awakening” by Kate Chopin. A novella I read in undergrad, in a Women’s Lit class I’m assuming. I remember reading this book through a feminist lens. I still believe it but as a young 20-something, and I don’t know how it is possible, I missed just how torturous it was for Edna to fall in love with Robert. Maybe it is my life experiences which have taught me more about life and love, but when I first read this I didn’t understand why she swam out to the ocean.

In this second reading, I felt almost compelled to cry for Edna at her tragic position in life. A woman who longs to be free to love who she wants, to be set free by divorce to be with the man she has fallen in love, but who can never be free. She cannot live her life as a free woman and having found her new independence and freedom so good, realizes that without it she cannot live any longer.

It’s incredibly depressing, of course, but in those moments when she is living in her delusions in her own little house–her room of her own–and she flourishes in her art, in herself, in growing and becoming her own person–we see that it is worth it to live a life like that. We take from Edna a thirst for living our lives on our own terms, to taking our bad decisions and doing our best to move forward and do what we can to get back on the path we first started.

I am so glad that I re-read this book and I’m looking forward to taking a chance on some other books I read when I was young and naive.

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