Varamo, by Cesar Aira, was the last book I thought I’d like to read again right after I’d finished, but that’s often what I think when I finish reading something by Aira, because the books of his New Directions has published (most of what’s available in English) have been short, and because there’s something about reading Aira in general (his inventiveness) that always feels fresh.
“See, that’s what I like about you, man, you’re always so positive.”
“Hey, you’re making me feel good about myself. I always try to be positive, even when I’m down. Thanks man.”
It’s weird overhearing a conversation like that.
Certain of Nabokov’s work I could read again and again, or I feel as if I could. Not Lolita, although it’s possible that dipping back into it (the first few pages, or a random selection) might be sufficient impetus to begin again. I could definitely return to The Gift, Glory, Pnin, Despair, I think, Invitation to a Beheading, maybe, most of the short stories that I’ve read, now Pale Fire, which I’m reading now.
The person grinding coffee wonders if she’s bothering me. But, to be honest, I preferred it when she was grinding, because then I couldn’t overhear anyone’s conversation.
There’s something about re-reading which strips something from the text, unless it’s been a long time between readings. An expectation of the text, an adherence to the impressions formed in the first reading, impressions which might not exist because of anything you’ve read (but because of something that occurs either in you or your environment). Some work, I’ve discovered, doesn’t stand up too well to second readings, or at least not to second readings too quickly, with the impression of the first reading too firmly in mind. Raymond Carver, it seems, will never again be as forceful or transmutative. Gary Lutz won’t ring unexpected words in quite the same way (nor will he impart the same feelings of doom, instead a kind of wallowing—leaking, diapery, plateauing—despair).
Moby Dick, and Tristram Shandy I think I could read more than once again. Borges, too, of course.
The work that stands up well to multiple readings is more varied, contains multiple registers, is both more and less than itself, or something. Or is complex in a way that can’t be immediately ascertained (or can never be ascertained, or only vaguely—maybe only vaguely is best, if it remains interesting, but always just out of the reader’s purview).
Would I squirm so much during The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz knowing not only the end of the book but Duddy’s fate, from other of Richler’s books? (Barney’s Version, Solomon Gursky Was Here, Richler’s short stories, etc.) (And another question: is it necessary to squirm to enjoy Duddy Kravitz?) But Barney’s Version I don’t think would suffer with knowledge of the trick ending, because it both is and isn’t enough to vindicate Barney (Barney alone, his character, or cathedral, is the reason we read).