As I re-read Amanda Coplin’s The Orcharist (2012), I’m reminded–as I always am when I read a great book a second or third time–of the treasures the author’s words present that might be overlooked the first time through by reader’s focus on the plot.
David Abram (The Spell of the Sensuous) speaks of the languages of the forest that most of us miss because we either don’t understand them or aren’t paying attention. In addition to animal tracks and calls, there are things that move (leaves blown across the sand, for example) that are another language we could learn if we wanted to understand the planet.
When I took a typesetting course in college as part of my journalism degree, the professor said that the best way to learn about a new typeface was to take a printed copy of it and trace every letter on an overlaid sheet of tissue paper. To know type, you need to see all of the thick and thin places, the ascenders and descenders, the legibility of the face on the page, and whether or not the type works best for headlines or text.
When we pay attention to a novel on a second or third reading, rather like noticing the language of a forest or the personality of a typeface, we see more than we saw the first time we read it. I’ve read The Prince of Tides and A Scot’s Quair at least five times, and each time I find a new nugget of gold or a hidden diamond. I usually let a fair amount of time go by before I’ll read a book again. That tends to make it seem newer when I pick it up for another reading.
I see on the Internet that some people track the number of books and their titles each year. I’m not sure why. I guess that’s okay, though it might emphasize quantity over quality, including making it harder to insert time in the schedule for re-reading one’s favorites.
Reading a book once seems to me to be similar to buying anything else and using it only once. Okay, maybe it’s not similar at all. But once the book is there on the shelf or on the display in one’s Kindle library, it still has things to say to us.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of Conjure Woman’s Cat.