Monday, December 5, 2011


The opening scene in C.S. Lewis's non-fiction "Experiment in Criticism" describes a woman in a library standing with an open book but gazing upward, trying to remember whether or not she has read the book.  She doesn't want to lug it home, sit down with it in happy anticipation and then recall the entire story as she gets to page 3 or so.  Clive Staples makes the point that really good literature calls out to be re-read.

Many pre-college teachers emphasize the value of reading as an educational and developmental activity.  I think it can be but it is not an unalloyed good.  Probably nothing is.  In schools and in life, science, history, mathematics, art and sports can all make a very good claim to be as valuable or more so than reading.  True, if I cannot read at all, the pursuit of any of those alternatives will be much impeded, just as being able to decode "Start" or "Enter" helps in using a computer.  But in this age of movies and special effects, I have felt there is a little more to the story than the simple approach that all paper pages are good and nothing else is.

The other night, we watched the movie "Enchanted April" with a friend.  That is one of Lynn's favorite movies and we have seen the whole thing at least 8 times.  I probably wouldn't have watched it just then since I am one of C.S. Lewis' lower type of readers, those who tend to dismiss a book that has already been read.  Still, she suggested it as one that our friend would like and I knew she was 100% right.  Actually, I underestimated how much complexity, subtle power and charm the movie has.  If a person is astute and pays attention, the photography, the personalities, the meanings and the feelings are genuinely nourishing, satisfying.

I am always intrigued by how deeply little tots care to have a story re-read, right after they have just heard it read aloud.  Most parents have heard the shout "Again!" when they have come to the end of a children's book.  It has to be deeply pleasurable for the child to be so interested in hearing the words read aloud that 2nd, 3rd, and Nth time.  

Conducting a course for graduate students that invited a step back from reading and a review of one can recollect and reconstitute from notes and attics, I have seen adults try re-reading.  They remember a book from their teens or see the title on someone's recollected list and remember a thrill.  Sometimes, the book is embarrassingly trite or ordinary when re-read.  Sometimes, the older reader sees how much was missed or unappreciated in the earlier reading.

It doesn't matter whether it is an opera, a film or a book, experiencing it again can open one's eyes to what the past self was like and what the present self is about. And, of course, it can be really fun, too.

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