By now, many of us are familiar with the hundreds of lists and articles of “Things to do before you die” and all their variations. I used to love these lists, especially the ones related to books, and tried to live by them. It gave me great satisfaction to cross some titles off as it fed my habit of overachievement, until I started to define my tastes and titles started to come up which I knew I would not enjoy.
Disclaimer though not preventive apology: It’s not humanly possible to genuinely like all the authors one “should read” or all the books that “should be a part of a well-rounded adult’s backbone”. Everyone has their tastes. By all means try to explore outside your comfort zone but do not torture yourself unnecessarily. An example: Gabriel García Márquez, Colombian writer, Nobel prize laureate, etc etc. I have given him a chance (three, actually, since I read Innocent Eréndira and Other Stories, Living to Tell the Tale, and One Hundred Years of Solitude), and reached the conclusion that I simply do not like his work. Sure, he comes up all the time under “X books to read before [insert ominous stage of life]” but I would much rather read something else entirely. End of the rant.
Since I started experimenting with downsizing and paring down to essentials, the issue of books has been on the back of my mind. One of the reasons I went on a book-shopping fast was that I was spending money I did not have on them, and collecting them much faster than I could read them. I discovered the beauty of book-swapping and public libraries, and there has not been a shortage of reading material. I even came to terms with many of the books I collected over the years which I had no intention of ever reading, or reading again, or their time had passed and other people would benefit from them much more than me.
Then there were the old friends: The books that I revisit in fragments or entirely, regularly or at random moments.
If you have just skimmed the blogs and books about minimalism and decluttering, they will tell you that reading a book you’ll probably only do once, and get rid of it so you can move on to other things. Life is too short and there are too many classics you did not read at school and too many new and worthwhile authors for you to spend more time than necessary on that battered book you are holding.
You might as well ask me to call my closest friends and tell them we have hung out for long enough and it’s time for me to meet new people!
Some books hold several layers that I cannot understand until circumstances in my life have changed enough for me to see them, like The Little Prince, which I have read almost as a rite of passage into several stages of my life. Other books spark reflection and challenge my view of the world. I tend to re-read Lolita every other summer and I am amazed at how beautiful words can almost make me forget unforgivable crime. I re-read Pedro Páramo when I feel homesick, and The Implacable Order of Things every autumn to remind myself to listen to the voice inside and appreciate the weird around me.
Of course I want to experience new stories and hear new voices, but there is no guilt in revisiting the places that have a special draw to our souls.
It’s ok to read that book twice. Or thrice. Or as many times as you like.