I did virtually everything that I could think of to first avoid reading Frankenstein
and then not read Walden
these past few months. And when I’m trying to avoid doing something, I typically read.
It was wonderful. Each time, it felt like going home. This is true for me any time that I read an old favorite, but it’s particularly true when that old favorite is a long book.
This past Christmas at a family dinner, when one of my parents mentioned my reading habits, my brother interjected “More like his skimming
habits.” He has, evidently, been skeptical that I actually read everything I claim to read since I once claimed to read James Clavell’s Shogun
in a single car trip from Maine to Pennsylvania. And, to be fair, I did skim Shogun
that time in the car.
My brother makes a fair point, but his point also misses the larger enjoyment that I get from reading and then re-reading big books.
. Yes, I skimmed parts of it on that car trip. But Shogun
was also one of the books that I kept by my bed growing up and dipped into whenever I wanted to go back to feudal Japan. I’ve probably read Shogun
10 times at this point, and while I do sometimes skim sections that I’m not as interested in reading again, I relish revisiting the characters, scenes, and plot twists in the book that are my favorites. As I was staring down the barrel of Walden
as my GOAT for April, I considered taking Shogun
out of the library.
I read World Without End
after reading A Column of Fire
because I had only read it once or twice, I was in a Ken-Follett-ish sort of mood, and I remembered it being fun.
But I first read Pillars of the Earth
in sixth grade (and then again and again in seventh, eighth, and ninth), again at least once in my 20s and now at least twice in my 30s. When I read it again this past month, yes, I skimmed certain parts in the reread the way that you might look past your end table on the way to the kitchen. It’s just ends up becoming a part of the landscape in a place as familiar and comforting as home.
I can’t understand people who don’t reread books, actually. The claim that you “already know what happened” misses the point entirely. It’s like saying you don’t want to eat your favorite meal again because you already know how it tastes. Part of the delight in diving back into a narrative is savoring the flavors and enjoying the experience.
But skimming is useful part of that experience because not every sentence of a 1,000 page novel is worth lingering on. You can enjoy your favorite sandwich without feeling obligated to eat the crusts.
So go ahead: Pick up an old favorite and don’t worry if you don’t read every landscape description. It’s always good to head home for a few days.