As an English major I have been asked to do something that I feel I never would have ordinarily done had I not pursued the major… and that is to re-read books. After all, you already know the ending…so why read it again? Being an English major has taught me that you cannot truly know or appreciate a book until you have read it at least twice. This had been my fourth time reading “The Adventure’s of Huckleberry Finn” and to my surprise I was able to take away from it something different than I did the last three times I read it.
I began to think about how a book can be so different each time you read it, and that’s when I began to realize that it wasn’t the book that had changed, it was me.
Every time you sit down to read a book, you are looking at it with your own experiences and opinions on the world, and on the characters you are meeting, As you read a novel at different points in your life you are able to bring to the novel new understandings, opinions, and experiences. You find yourself able to relate to moments you were never able to relate to before, and in that ability to relate you form different and new connections to the characters you encounter. In addition to being able to relate and experience new things as you read a novel again, you are also able to concentrate on different aspects of the novel.
Whether you intend to or not, the majority of the time, when you first read a novel you are focused mainly on the plot, the foundation of the text. You want to know what happens, and who it happens to. It is when you go back and read the text again that you start to ask why those things happened, HOW the author told you what happened, HOW the author was able to manipulate how you feel. You begin to notice word choices you had never picked up on, illusions that got lost in the excitement of the action taking place on page.
It was reading these selected essays that brought me to think about how re-reading “The Adventure’s of Huckleberry Finn” can change. In “ Say It Ain’t So, Huck: Second Thoughts on Mark Twain’s Masterpiece” by Jain Smiley, she says “ The novel took me a couple of days (it was longer than I had remembered), and I closed the cover stunned. Yes, stunned.” Reading her essay made me wonder what lense she was reading the novel with to form her new strong opinions about the text. Her issues seemed to be that now at an older age, she was able to see how much went unanswered in the text, how much was based around lies and circumstance. After reading her essay I found myself wanting to go back and read certain parts of the novel again. She pointed out that the main story ,which so draws the reader in, the relationship between Jim and Huck on the raft seems to disappear in the second half of the book, and we are left with a seemingly ridiculous sequence of events to get to the happy ending of Jim’s freedom.
Similar to Jane Smiley, Toni Morrison in “The Amazing, Troubling Book” discusses how it took multiple readings of the novel to understand different aspects and potentials of the novel. He showed how when looking at the novel through a different lense, one could gain a new appreciation and understanding of it. “ Actually I read through the lenses of Leslie Fiedler and Lionel Trilling. Exposed to Trilling’s reverent intimacy and Fiedler’s irreverent familiarity, I concluded that their criticisms served me better than the novel had, not only because they helped me see many things I had been unaware of, but precisely because they ignored or rendered trivial the things that caused my unease”
As I found myself contemplating the necessity for re-reading books, and how much one could gain from re-reading books, I also found myself asking the question as to what makes a book great, and I think the two questions go hand in hand. What makes a book great is if it can constantly change and evolve and you change and evolve. A book is great when you can read it time after time after time, and still find some new perspective or insight that you had not found before. Perhaps that is why some great books are unsettling. It is confusing to think that words that have not physically changed, can in fact change completely the second time you read them.