December 19, 2011 by Reader's Connection
If you don´t like to spend your time rereading, or if the books that Patricia Meyer Spacks talks about rereading aren’t favorites of yours, then I hope no one gives you On Rereading as a holiday gift.
Spacks is obsessed in a healthy way, though. She writes about novels (like Lucky Jim and The Catcher in the Rye) which she loved long ago but which no longer speak to her; and, going in the opposite direction, there’s Saul Bellow’s Herzog, which she found “both tedious and irritating” when she read it in the 1960’s. “Now,” she says, “I can’t fathom what was wrong with me . . . ”
She includes the rereading of P. G. Wodehouse in her “guilty pleasures” chapter, unlike the rereading of Jane Austen which, to her surprise, seems to be a universal practice:
In 1980, traveling in China, I encountered a young Chinese woman who spoke excellent English. She revealed that she had read many English novels. What was her favorite? I inquired. The immediate response: Jane Austen. She reads all Austen’s novels, she said, over and over.
I was astonished. Austen’s world seemed as far as possible from the one that the self-declared rereader inhabited, in a society in which the Cultural Revolution had only recently ended, a land where men and women alike still dressed in drab pajama-like garments and the people we met seemed to recite from some manual of the politically acceptable. Did it feel like extravagant fantasizing, in such an environment, to enjoy accounts of manners and morals in Regency England? I inquired further: Why did she enjoy Austen? “Oh,” came the reply, “the irony, the wit, the grace!”
Back in New Haven, where I lived at the time, I met other rereaders of Austen: a group of female Holocaust survivors. They convened at regular intervals, year after year, to read Jane Austen aloud to one another. When they finished a novel, they’d go on to the next one; when they finished them all, they’d start over. Why Austen? I asked one of them. Because, my informant said, she represents civilization.
I’m in a minority group, according to Spacks, because I don’t reread Austen. I haven’t yet, anyway. But I’ve been thinking for some time about rereading Herzog, and now Spacks is twisting my arm.