You're Not The Same Reader - It's Not The Same Book

Why would anyone read a book a second, third, or even fourth time? Especially a whodunit where the solution is already known. Familiarity? A love of the author's characters or evocative writing style? The setting?

Perhaps for all of these reasons. But we might be surprised to discover that we're not reading the same book because we are not the same reader. Time, events, and life experiences continually shape us. And if we're not the same reader, then we will connect to the story in altered ways.

I was reminded of this a few weeks ago while recovering from retina surgery. For a few days, I was essentially blind, forced to remain facedown while my eye healed. I happened to be listening to
All the Light We Cannot See. Up to the point of my operation, I'd been identifying with the young German soldier. Suddenly, my empathy shifted to the blind French girl and remained there even after my sight returned. If my story focus changed in the middle of a first reading, what would shift in a re-read five or ten years from now? Would my identification be as strong? Probably not. And among Doerr's richly drawn characters, I suspect I will latch onto another.

My prime example for changing character identification over the years occurred with William Faulkner's
Intruder in the Dust, a mystery perhaps not as well known or revered as his other works. I first read it in 1964 when I was sixteen. The sixteen-year-old white boy caught up in black Lucas Beauchamp's murder trial was an easy character for me to relate to. And the racial tensions fueling the story were swirling around my world.

Fast-forward thirty-five years to when I read the book again. Faulkner's southern politics aside, I found myself sympathetic to the lawyer trying to rein in a headstrong teenager and a just as stubborn Lucas. I look forward to reading the story again in ten years when I'm sure I'll agree with Lucas and admire his pride and independence.

I'll have been three readers reading three books. And isn't that what defines a classic anyway? A story that speaks to us in new ways with every reading and continues to speak to each generation.

So, don't limit yourself to a good read this summer. Enjoy a good re-read of one of your favorites. You might find you're reading it again for the first time.