Rereadings: Seventeen Writers Revisit Books They Love

Overview

Is a book the same book—or a reader the same reader—the second time around? The seventeen authors in this witty and poignant collection of essays all agree on the answer: Never.

The editor of Rereadings is Anne Fadiman, and readers of her bestselling book Ex Libris will find this volume especially satisfying. Her chosen authors include Sven Birkerts, Allegra Goodman, Vivian Gornick, Patricia Hampl, Phillip Lopate, and Luc Sante; the objects of ...

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Rereadings: Seventeen writers revisit books they love

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Overview

Is a book the same book—or a reader the same reader—the second time around? The seventeen authors in this witty and poignant collection of essays all agree on the answer: Never.

The editor of Rereadings is Anne Fadiman, and readers of her bestselling book Ex Libris will find this volume especially satisfying. Her chosen authors include Sven Birkerts, Allegra Goodman, Vivian Gornick, Patricia Hampl, Phillip Lopate, and Luc Sante; the objects of their literary affections range from Pride and Prejudice to Sue Barton, Student Nurse.

These essays are not conventional literary criticism; they are about relationships. Rereadings reveals at least as much about the reader as about the book: each is a miniature memoir that focuses on that most interesting of topics, the protean nature of love. And as every bibliophile knows, no love is more life-changing than the love of a book.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for Rereadings:

"An absolute delight for those of us who live to read (and reread) . . . Fadiman has done such a fine job of selecting and arranging these pieces that they become a kind of composite literary coming-of-age memoir from the geeky, horny adolescent madly thumbing Franny and Zooey or Lord Jim in some shag-carpeted suburban basement bedroom to the sadder but wiser critic, novelist, poet who gazes wistfully at the ghost of a younger self rising from the pages of a once-loved book." -David Laskin, The Seattle Times

"A delightful glimpse into the relationship between reader and book." —Teresa K. Weaver, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"If you're a fan of Anne Fadiman's Ex Libris—and who among right-thinking people isn't?—then your heart will skip a beat over her new anthology, Rereadings . . . thoroughly enjoyable essays." -Claire Dederer, Newsday

"A deep and wonderfully complex story about relationships . . . Anne Fadiman's diverse collection of essays encourages readers to rethink the way we see our favorite books and ultimately the way we see ourselves through them." -Jill Marr, Pages

Praise for Ex Libris:

"For Fadiman, books are the building blocks with which a life is made. . . With breezy, self-effacing humor and dollops of literary trivia, the essays in Ex Libris try to cajole us into restoring books to the heart of family life." —Lucia Perillo, Chicago Tribune

"A terrifically entertaining collection of personal essays about books . . . Heartening, tender, wise, and hilarious." -Patsy Baudoin, The Boston Book Review

"Each essay is a model of clarity and lightly worn erudition, and speaks volumes about the author's appreciation for people as well as books." -The New Yorker

"A smart little book that one can happily welcome into the family and allow to start growing old." -Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, The New York Times

Publishers Weekly
Former American Scholar editor Fadiman (Ex Libris) has drawn from a column in that journal for a charming collections of essays on the varied ways book lovers read. The best of these entries-Arthur Krystal's return to H.C. Witwer's boxing novel, The Leather Pushers; Dianna Kappel-Smith's assessment of the field guide that stirred an interest in the natural world; Michael Upchurch's consideration of Christina Stead's fictional financial world-are written by masters of the essay form, revealing themselves at the different phases of their lives through the act of reading. All of the writers share a gratitude for the books that helped them navigate their lives, especially over the rocky shoals of adolescence. The return to beloved works is not always simple, especially when readers come to see the faults in books that they so closely identified with years earlier. As many note, the act of reading changes over the course of a lifetime, from an easy engagement with plot and character to an awareness of politics and style. They may bemoan their own loss of literary innocence, but each finds a new way to appreciate the texts that have accompanied them through life. (Sept.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Fadiman (The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down), a former editor at the American Scholar, has assembled this best-of collection of 17 essays from that magazine's "Rereadings" column, in which writers comment on a second reading of a beloved book, poem, or even album cover. One striking point is how many writers come away from the subsequent reading-usually the exact copy read previously, even with marginalia-questioning their previous appreciation of the work. One realizes how a particular mood or event ignites the experience between reader and book. Thus, Pico Iyer (Sun After Dark) comments on the Penguin Modern Classic edition of D.H. Lawrence's The Virgin and the Gypsy. While at the bedside of her dying father, Katherine Ashenberg (The Mourner's Dance) reflects on the Sue Barton nursing novels. Memories of summer camp flood back to David Michaels (N.C. Wyeth: A Biography) upon his second look at the cover of the Beatles's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album. The result is a fun challenge to bibliophiles and discussion groups to revisit past favorites. Recommended for larger public and academic libraries.-Joyce Sparrow, Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas Cty., Pinellas Park, FL Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374530549
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 9/5/2006
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 635,810
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.40 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Anne Fadiman is the author of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, winner of a National Book Critics Circle Award, an L.A. Times Book Prize, and a Salon Book Award. She is also the author of two essay collections, At Large and At Small and Ex Libris. Her essays and articles have appeared in Harper’s, The New Yorker, and The New York Times, among other publications. She is the Francis Writer-in-Residence at Yale.

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Read an Excerpt

Rereadings

DAVID SAMUELS

Marginal Notes on the Inner Lives of People with Cluttered Apartments in the East Seventies

Franny and Zooey, by J. D. Salinger

 

 

 

 

No one becomes a reader except in answer to some baffling inner necessity, of the kind that leads people to turn cartwheels outside the 7-Eleven, jump headlong through a plate-glass window, join the circus, or buy a low-end foreign car when the nearest appropriate auto-repair shop is fifty miles away. With these dramatic examples fresh in your mind, you'll probably require only a small amount of additional convincing that my little theory—based on years of painful experience—is true. Reading requires a loner's temperament, a high tolerance for silence, and an unhealthy preference for the company of people who are imaginary or dead.

It also requires patience, or what my high-school gym teacher, whose name I remember as Randy Fisk, or Fist—a bantamweight Irishman with a ginger mustache, who exhibited a suspicious delight in watching his fourteen-year-old charges vault a padded "horse"—used to call "goodold-fashioned stick-to-itiveness." His opinion was that readers were pale unnatural freaks with a built-in resistance to normal physical exercise. And because, like so many freaks, I have a desperate desire to appear normal, it pains me to admit that Mr. Fist, or Fisk, was right. Readers are freaks. There is really no way to deny it.

The comparison between readers and writers on this score is instructive. While writers have historically made a point of displaying themselves as unusually sensitive, troubled souls (see Verlaine, Rimbaud, Thomas Wolfe, Plath, Burroughs, Ginsberg, et al.; note that most of the truly crazy ones are poets), it is also my theory that their dramatic sufferings are very often the product of too much ambition. Too much actual, organic suffering in one's biography can make it impossible to sustain the energy and egotism necessary for a successful literary career. A career of reading, on the other hand, allows for more prolonged and spectacular forms of disturbance. It is no accident, at least, that most readers I know were unhappy children. They spent months in the hospital; endured long periods of friendlessness or bereavement; watched loved ones die of cancer; had parents who were crazy or divorced; spent formative years in a foreign country; suffered from early exposure to "fantasy" or "adventure" novels for boys or "mystery" or "romance" novels for girls; or lived through some overwhelming experience of dislocating weirdness, such as growing up on an army base, or on a farm, or in a cult.

My own reasons for bookishness are less dramatic. There were the stresses of a home where my unhappy parents foughtall the time, inculcating in me a very natural desire to escape from reality. But the greatest injury I suffered was the absence of a television set, which cut me off from the comforting stream of voices, pictures, characters, and stories in which my peers ritually immersed themselves every day after school. Assigned the role of Gilligan from Gilligan's Island, I remember standing on our asphalt playground in Brooklyn without the slightest idea of what to say or how to behave. After school, I went home and read books. It was less boring than staring up at the ceiling or listening to my parents fight.

By the age of fifteen, I was a full-time reader. I hid books under my desk. I read in the library after school. Reading was an escape from the crushing pressures of adolescence, such as speaking out loud in class or making direct eye contact with my peers in the halls. Books were a promise that I might at least learn to impersonate someone normal. I loved The Great Gatsby. If Gatsby himself was blurry and suspicious, Nick Carraway was the kind of friend I would have liked to have. Hemingway was good, particularly the early stories (how to talk to hoboes and boxers). Flaubert was great, particularly Sentimental Education (Madame Bovary reminded me of my mother). While Edith Wharton had a wonderful eye for details, I could never understand how she chose her main characters. Reading her books was like watching a brilliant hostess in her drawing room making witty observations to dullards and bores. Why she invited these people over was beyond me. Henry James was worse. Virginia Woolf was a great writer. Still, it didn't escape my attention that Septimus Smith threw himself out a window; or thatLeonard Bast, my favorite character from Woolf's great predecessor E. M. Forster, was crushed to death by a shelf of books. Woolf and Forster were snobs. Of the "modern" American writers, John Updike was like Flaubert, except he used his terrific skill to convince the reader that he actually liked Rabbit Angstrom, whereas the Updike I imagined (namely, me) would have been delighted when Rabbit's life turned mediocre and unhappy. Philip Roth was too close to home.

More than any of the other famous writers I read, J. D. Salinger actively courted my adolescent longings and fantasies, particularly when it came to the dreamlike specificity of his highly desirable Manhattan interiors. In Franny and Zooey, the author speaks through Buddy Glass, a writer who admired The Great Gatsby, "which was my 'Tom Sawyer' when I was twelve," and whose main business, as far as I could make out, was dispensing cracker-barrel wisdom like an old-timer at the track. Buddy was also happy to share the insider details I craved, namely, the wall hangings, reading habits, vocal inflections, and bathroom-medicine-cabinet contents of a family of precocious, sensitive, unhappy children who lived on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. (My family lived in Brooklyn, then moved to New Jersey when I was nine. Manhattan was a dream. The mental Post-it I attached to Franny and Zooey reads something like "Notes on the Inner Lives of People with Cluttered Apartments in the East Seventies.") It was encouraging to know that my yearnings for a guide through the darkness of this world were answered by the tender proclivities (which now seem stranger and darkerbut no less affecting) of the famous author of The Catcher in the Rye, a novel that played on self-pitying adolescent instincts without offering any useful wisdom in return. Seymour Glass would have hated it. (It is no accident, I believe, that both John Hinckley, Jr., and Mark David Chapman were carrying copies of Salinger's little red book when they shot Ronald Reagan and John Lennon, respectively.)

Between the ages of fourteen and twenty-four I read Franny and Zooey from cover to cover at least five times. I underlined passages and made cryptic notations in the margins, hoping to become a better person (witty, literate, living in Manhattan), an acceptable character free from the bipolar alternation of uncontrolled aggression and sad passivity that I saw in my parents' marriage and was only beginning to recognize in myself.

 

 

By relating this mishmash of biographical details in a jaded, older-person voice, I hardly mean to suggest that reading was not a worthwhile habit. Nor do I intend to explain away, through an act of knowing posthumous revisitation, the failings of my fourteen-year-old self (who, by the way, deserves tons of sympathy and understanding, but whom I have little interest, should the opportunity somehow present itself, in ever meeting again: his unhappiness, his eagerness to please, and his frantic desire to escape from his family give him all the retrospective charm of a small ferret trapped in a corner). What bothers me about him has nothing to do with his aesthetic sense. It is his lack of any real capacity to entersympathetically into the minds of other people. I read books in order to learn how to be the right kind of character in the right kind of novel. The authors of these novels were people (by "people" I meant people who were confident and knowing, i.e., rich people, or characters like Nick Carraway, who were accepted by the rich) who had condescended to share their knowledge. They were not people like my parents or me, who were anxious from morning through most of the afternoon, and at night were very often scared to death. It never occurred to me that the need to catalog the stuff of everyday life might be a sign that the authors I loved were loners and misfits. Normal people, after all, don't stand around at garden parties or lie in bed with their loved ones trying to figure out what even the smallest ordinary gesture means.

Franny and Zooey was different. It was my Stover at Yale. The wisdom that Salinger was interested in dispensing was more difficult than the simple stick-to-itiveness of Dink Stover (a step up from "striver") or my high-school gym teacher, Mr. Fisk, or Fist. I never felt much identity with such well-balanced characters anyway. I didn't know anyone who went to Yale. And if I wanted to be Dink Stover (a hero-athlete, admired by his peers), or even F. Scott Fitzgerald, I also knew that they were too far a reach. In Franny and Zooey, the Dink Stover character, waiting on the train platform in Princeton to receive Franny Glass, was called Lane Coutell. "Lane Coutell, in a Burberry raincoat that apparently had a wool liner buttoned into it, was one of the six or seven boys out on the open platform. Or, rather, he was and he wasn't one of them." Who doesn't feel like that? In the paperbackFranny I owned at fourteen, and have read ever since, I underlined "he was and he wasn't one of them" twice in blue ink. The tip about the Burberry coat with the wool liner seemed useful too. (Did the Princeton men of 1984—the year of the Talking Heads' best album—still meet "dates" on train platforms wearing Burberry raincoats? I believed the answer was yes.)

Still, there was no getting around the fact that I was bad at sports and had trouble looking directly at other people in the halls. And J. D. Salinger knew it. He knew that his readers feared and resented the Lane Coutells of this world with all the force of the profound self-hatred that only adolescents can muster. And unlike Fitzgerald, or Hemingway, or the author of Stover at Yale, whose name doesn't seem particularly worth remembering, Salinger was on our side. "I've missed you," Franny tells Lane. The words are no sooner out of Franny's mouth, the author eagerly informs us, "than she realized that she didn't mean them at all."

That was how I felt about Lane too, and it was at this moment that my underlining became enthusiastic. It wasn't Lane we were supposed to like. It was Franny. Lane is a self-important snob, a charm boy, a gym-class standout who uses words like "testicularity" and then pretends that he said something else. Franny isn't fooled. And as she cuts him up, "with equal parts of self-disapproval and malice," Salinger is careful to keep the reader on her side by assuring us that her disdain is self-conscious and specific, and would never be extended to us. You don't have to hate yourself, I felt like telling Franny. Lane is an asshole.

Franny was blameless, brave, and falling apart. Also selfless and knowing. "I'm just sick of ego, ego, ego," she says. "My own and everybody else's." I underlined that line with a vengeance. "I'm afraid I will compete," one page later, was even better, rating both a five-pointed star and an exclamation point in blue. The underlined passages are obvious attempts to engage the sympathies of adolescent loners by telling a familiar story (Dink Stover at Yale) from the more original and appealing reverse angle (Franny, his date, who thinks he's a jerk). They worked. I was charmed. The specter of testicularity was ridiculed and banished. Despite her emotional condition, and the difference in our ages, I might even have considered asking Franny out on a date.

The centerpiece of the next section of the book is Buddy's letter to his younger brother Zooey. I confess that my fourteen- and even my twenty-year-old selves were never very interested in this letter. The writing was looser, stammering, written by a stand-up comic with sweaty palms and a brand-new routine, looking out into the dark. I didn't want to know about Buddy Glass. I wanted to know more about Franny. I was disturbed by Salinger's desire to shift the ground of his story, to break through the conventional demands of rewriting Stover at Yale or early Fitzgerald from a sly, sardonic angle and infuse the voice with a more self-conscious humor that underlined the vulnerability of his narrator—a person of adult years and experience who was willing to admit, in public, that he "burst into tears at the first harsh or remonstrative word." I knew that line was a joke. (I wrote "joke" in blue ink in the margin.) Still, it was the kind of joke thatmade me nervous. Entering into a pact of sympathetic understanding with such a person, I knew, was unwise.

On my second reading, at age seventeen or eighteen, I found Buddy's sense of humor more sympathetic. I liked "if my Muses failed to provide for me, I'd go grind lenses somewhere, like Booker T. Washington." I was proud of myself for getting why the comparison between Buddy Glass and the author of Up from Slavery was funny. ("Unexpected," I wrote, in pedantic red ink. "Not Benjamin Franklin.") I also appreciated the description of Les Glass, later on in the book, as "an inveterate and wistful admirer of the wall decor at Sardi's theatrical restaurant." I underlined the phrase "theatrical restaurant," because it was the addition of those two words to "Sardi's" that made the joke work.

Funny or not, Buddy Glass—from the perspective of age fourteen, and age seventeen or eighteen, and even age twenty—was never as interesting as his dead brother Seymour, who left behind a deceptively simple three-line koan whose meaning tantalized and captivated me for ten years without ever quite becoming clear: "The little girl on the plane / Who turned her doll's head around / To look at me." Because Seymour Glass plays only a ghostly Jamesian role in Franny and Zooey, it seems wrong to go into my idealization of him here. Why did Seymour kill himself? Was the beauty of the little girl's gesture—is she trying to be polite, does she really think the doll is a person—not enough? Was it a protest against what the girl would become when she grew up? Or did the charming gesture contain the seeds of the adult corruption that would later destroy her soul? None ofthese questions can be answered within the text of Franny and Zooey. What's here is Buddy's practical advice to his brother: "Act, Zachary Martin Glass, when and where you want to, since you feel you must, but do it with all your might"

Zachary Martin Glass, or Zooey, was my favorite character in the book. He is Seymour and Buddy's Zen teachings, he is the rebellion against those teachings, he is funny and handsome, he is an actor, and he even bears a passing resemblance to Lane Coutell. (Both are objects of adolescent male identification. The demographics are different, that's all.) If Buddy Glass made me uneasy, Zooey was a perfect stand-in. He is an airbrushed version of Buddy, a character any adolescent misfit would be happy to have as a friend, a proof of the benign and charitable intentions of his author. After twenty pages of Buddy Glass, I was happy to be finally alone with Zooey. Someone in this family was normal. At the same time, my feelings for Zooey contained a hard, uncomfortable kernel of self-hatred that never quite dissolved, no matter how many times I read the book.

But this piece of dishonesty was more than made up for by my favorite scene in the book, the bathroom scene between Zooey and his mother, Bessie Glass. Bessie is a classic. (Les Glass tap-dances his way into the text only twice, in a memory of a long-ago birthday party and as a semi-ghostly presence who proffers a tangerine to his disconsolate daughter.) She is a "svelte twilight soubrette ... photographed ... in her old housecoat." The sentence that follows a few pageslater is worthy of Balzac, a real beauty. The subject is Bessie's housecoat:

With its many occultish-looking folds, it also served as the repository for the paraphernalia of a very heavy cigarette smoker and an amateur handyman; two oversized pockets had been added at the hips, and they usually contained two or three packs of cigarettes, several match folders, a screwdriver, a claw-end hammer, a Boy Scout knife that had once belonged to one of her sons, and an enamel faucet handle or two, plus an assortment of screws, nails, hinges, and ball-bearing casters—all of which tended to make Mrs. Glass chink faintly as she moved about in her large apartment.

Slovenly, patched together, proceeding according to a purely comic logic, if by any logic at all, and stopping just short of the darker comedy of Beckett, Bessie's old housecoat is the best description of domestic memory that I know. Perhaps the ability to find meaning in that memory is ultimately what saves us. Salinger never quite agrees. (Zooey is exasperated. Bessie is a dope.) Still, he is willing to give Bessie and her housecoat their due.

The love scene between Bessie Glass and her son is the answer to the love scene between Franny and Lane in Princeton, and to the lousy television script that Zooey reads in the bath. They are honest with each other. "This is supposed to be a family of all adults," Bessie says. She is dumb as a post. But she knows that Franny is hurt and that she can't fix it. And just when the scene might get sentimental, Buddy steps in to let us know that the eyes that used to announcethe tragedy of her two dead sons now tear up with the announcement that some remote Hollywood starlet's marriage is on the rocks.

"Why the hell doesn't he kill himself and be done with it?" Zooey wonders of the absent Buddy. (That Buddy Glass is putting this sentence in Zooey's mouth didn't hit me until two readings later, in my junior year of college. I noted the additional complexity in blue.) I trusted Zooey because he was angry. "I'm a twenty-five-year-old freak and she's a twenty-year-old freak, and both those bastards are responsible."

That was where I always stopped underlining. I never marked the last line of the scene, when Zooey makes fun of his mother's pitch-perfect exit ("In the old radio days, when you were all little and all, you all used to be so—smart and happy and—just lovely. Morning, noon, and night."), but softly, so that "his voice wouldn't really reach her down the hall."

 

 

It did not occur to me until after I had graduated from college that Salinger was entirely serious about the last third of the book, or that Franny and Zooey was intended as something other than a novel. I had always wondered about the little books that Franny carried in her purse, The Way of a Pilgrim and The Pilgrim Continues His Way. Her interest in the religious practice of a thirty-three-year-old Russian peasant with a withered arm who repeats the prayer "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me" until it enters the rhythm of his heart always seemed to me like a precious symptom towhich the author had devoted perhaps a little too much attention. What I realized, lying in bed in the basement, was that Franny and Zooey and The Way of a Pilgrim were similar, if not the same book. They were answers to the question of how to live.

The question interested me because I was twenty-three years old and living in my parents' basement in West Orange, New Jersey, along with the family dog, an unwashed poodle. Before that, I had been living in Manhattan, in a five-room apartment on East Fourteenth Street between Second and Third Avenues that I shared with five people between the ages of twenty-four and thirty-two. I paid $320 a month for a room with three doors and no windows. It was hot in the winter. The summer was worse. People wandered in and out. The building next door was a residence for the deaf, and at night its tenants would bring their Dominican boyfriends to our stairwell, lean up against the wall, spread their legs, open their mouths, and roll their eyes toward heaven without making a sound. Everyone I knew wore leather jackets and took drugs. Two of my roommates were heroin addicts. I was afraid to put a needle into my arm. Over time, I became afraid of the way I was living.

When I moved back home, I stopped taking drugs, which made me angrier than I had been before. I was also scared. In the book, Bessie Glass wanted to send Franny to an analyst, like Philly Byrnes.

"Philly Byrnes," Zooey answered. "Philly Byrnes is a poor little impotent sweaty guy past forty who's been sleeping for years with a rosary and a copy of Variety under hispillow." That wasn't me either. If there was someone out there with "any crazy, mysterious gratitude for his insight and intelligence," it wasn't any psychiatrist I knew. And it wasn't J. D. Salinger either. I was looking for answers, and the notes I made toward the end of the book at age twenty-four quiver with sardonic disappointment. "'Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase' lay on top of 'Fear and Trembling.'" That was Salinger's own line. But it seemed like a better description of the weakness of Franny and Zooey than anything I could invent on my own. I noticed that Franny is described as "a first-class beauty," and I found the description cheap. I marked Zooey's line to Franny: "How in hell are you going to recognize a legitimate holy man when you see one if you don't even know a cup of consecrated chicken soup when it's right in front of your nose?" In the margin I suggested that Starbucks could use this motto on a new line of greeting cards, to be sold at the cash register for a dollar apiece.

And those were the last words I wrote in my copy of Franny and Zooey. The affair had gone cold.

 

 

Reading the book again, for the first time as a writer, I was amazed by how many perfect moments there are, by how rich and funny and wise it is, by how much and how little I understood, and by the fact that the entire book is only two hundred pages long. I still love the bathroom scene the best. But I also love the end of the book, particularly the moment when Franny announces that she wants to talk to Seymour,the moment of pure emotion that the book has been building toward for almost the entire two hundred pages, and that Salinger, Buddy, and Zooey answer by looking out the window and seeing a little girl in a red tam, with her dachshund wandering on the sidewalk nearby. It's not Seymour exactly. It's the little girl from the airplane, or someone like her, a vision of sustaining innocence that will carry us through the harder part of the lesson, Seymour's Fat Lady, for whose sake Zooey Glass once polished his shoes every night before appearing on the radio. She had thick legs, very veiny, and her radio was always going full blast. She had cancer.

"There isn't anyone out there who isn't Seymour's Fat Lady" Zooey says. The Fat Lady is Christ. Or forgiveness. There was a time when this sentence didn't make sense, or didn't convince me to underline the words or put a check mark or a star in the margin. I'm not saying that the line is unsentimental. There may be higher peaks of wisdom to climb. Still, in the interests of full disclosure, it seems only fair to relate that after I closed the book, I opened it again, got out my fancy new disposable fountain pen, and added a black check mark to the author's italics. I am still grateful for this book. That is what I mean to say.

Foreword and editorial work copyright © 2005 by Anne Fadiman

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Table of Contents

On Rereading: Forward by Anne Fadiman

David Samuels, Marginal Notes on the Inner Lives of People with Cluttered Apartments in the East Seventies

Franny and Zooey, by J.D. Salinger

Patricia Hampl, Relics of Saint Katherine

The Journal, Letters, and Stories of Katherine Mansfield

Sven Birkerts, Love's Wound, Love's Salve

Pan, by Knut Hamsun

Vijay Seshadri, Whitman's Triumph

"Song of Myself," by Walt Whitman

Arthur Krystal, Kid Roberts and Me

The Leather Pushers, by H.C. Witwer

Diana Kappel Smith, My Life with a Field Guide

A Field Guide to Wildflowers of Northeastern and Northcentral North America, by Roger Tory Peterson and Margaret McKenny

Luc Sante, A Companion of the Prophet

Arthur Rimbaud, by Enid Starkie

Katherine Ashenburg, Three Doctors' Daughters

The Sue Barton Books, by Helen Dore Boylston

Jamie James, "You Shall Hear of Me"

Lord Jim, by Joseph Conrad

Vivian Gornick, Love with a Capital L

The Vagabond and The Shackle, by Colette

Michael Upchurch, Stead Made Me Do It

House of All Nations, by Christina Stead

Allegra Goodman, Pemberley Previsited

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

Pico Iyer, Lawrence by Lightning

The Virgin and the Gypsy, by D.H. Lawrence

Barbara Sjoholm, The Ice Palace

"The Snow Queen," by Hans Christian Andersen

Evelyn Toynton, Revisiting Brideshead

Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh

Phillip Lopate, The Pursuit of Worldliness

The Charterhouse of Parma, by Stendhal

David Michaels, The Back of the Album

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, by the Beatles

About the Contributors

Acknowledgments

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First Chapter

Excerpted from Rereadings, edited by Anne Fadiman. Foreword and editorial work copyright © 2005 by Anne Fadiman. Published in September 2005 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.

Foreword: On Rereading

When my son was eight, I read C. S. Lewis's The Horse and His Boy aloud to him. I had originally read it when I was eight myself, and although I'd reread the better-known Narnia books—The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; the Magician's Nephew, The Silver Chair—in the interim, more than forty years had passed since I'd read The Horse and His Boy.

Reading a favorite book to your child is one of the most pleasurable forms of rereading, provided the child's enthusiasm is equal to yours and thus gratifyingly validates your literary taste, your parental competence, and your own former self. Henry loved The Horse and His Boy, the tale of two children and two talking horses who gallop across an obstacle-fraught desert in hopes of averting the downfall of an imperiled kingdom that lies to the north. It's the most suspenseful of the Narnia books, and Henry, who was at that poignant age when parents are still welcome at bedtime but can glimpse their banishment on the horizon, begged me each night not to turn out the light just yet: how about another page, and then how about another paragraph, and then, come on, how about just one more sentence? There was only one problem with this idyllic picture. As I read the book to Henry, I was thinking to myself that C. S. Lewis, not to put too fine a point on it, was a racist and sexist pig.

I'd read two biographies of Lewis and knew that his relationswith women, colored by the death of his mother when he was nine, were pretty peculiar. I'd read "The Shoddy Lands," a creepy misogynist fantasy in which the (male) narrator encounters a giantess whose nude body makes him gag. However, I remembered The Horse and His Boy only as a rollicking equestrian adventure, sort of like Misty of Chincoteague but with swordfights instead of Pony Penning Day. My jaw dropped when I realized that Aravis, its heroine, is acceptable to Lewis because she acts like a boy—she's interested in "bows and arrows and horses and dogs and swimming"—and even dresses like one, whereas the book's only girly girl, a devotee of "clothes and parties and gossip," is an object of contempt. Even more appalling was Lewis's treatment of the Calormenes, a brown-skinned people who wear turbans and carry scimitars. (Forty years ago, the crude near-homonym had slipped by me. This time around, I wondered briefly if Lewis was thinking only about climate—calor is Latin for "heat"—but decided that was unlikely. It's as if he'd named a Chinese character Mr. Yellow: it had to be on purpose.) The book's hero, Shasta, is the ward of a venial Calormene fisherman, but, as a visitor observes, "this boy is manifestly no son of yours, for your cheek is as dark as mine but the boy is fair and white." That's how we know he belongs to a noble northern race instead of an uncouth southern one. Of the Calormene capital—the seat of a fat, obnoxious, vulgarly bejeweled potentate called the Tisroc—Lewis remarks that "what you would chiefly have noticed if you had been there was the smells, which came from unwashed people, unwashed dogs, scent, garlic, onions, and the piles of refuse which lay everywhere."

It was difficult to read this kind of thing to Henry without comment: the words, after all, were coming to him in my voice. I held my tongue for the first hundred pages or so, but finally I blurted out, "Have you noticed that The Horse and His Boy isn't really fair to girls? And that all the bad guys have dark skin?"

Henry considered this seriously for a moment. "That's not true," he said. "The Tisroc is a bad guy, and C. S. Lewis doesn't say he has dark skin."

"Well, he's a Calormene, and all the Calormenes are dark. Of course"—I could hear myself start to fumble—"fifty years ago, when this book was written, lots of people had ideas that weren't true, about whether boys were better than girls, or whites were better than blacks, or—"

Henry shot me the sort of look he might have used had I dumped a pint of vinegar into a bowl of chocolate ice cream. And who could blame him? He didn't want to analyze, criticize, evaluate, or explicate the book. He didn't want to size it up or slow it down. He wanted exactly what I had wanted at eight: to find out if Shasta and Aravis would get to Archenland in time to warn King Lune that his castle was about to be attacked by evil Prince Rabadash and two hundred Calormene horsemen. "Mommy," he said fiercely, "can you just read?"

And there lay the essential differences between reading and rereading, acts that Henry and I were performing simultaneously. The former had more velocity; the latter had more depth. the former shut out the world in order to focus on the story; the latter dragged in the world in order to assess the story. The former was more fun; the latter was more cynical. But what was remarkable about the latter was that it contained the former: even while, as with the upper half of a set of bifocals, I saw the book through the complicating lens of adulthood, I also saw it through the memory of the first time I'd read it, when it had seemed as swift and pure as the Winding Arrow, the river that divides Calormen from Archenland.

Eight years ago, when I became editor of the literary quarterly The American Scholar, one of the first tasks I faced was how to organize the books department. Of course we needed to review recently published books, but how could we also honor the fact that for all true readers, the bonds that count are not with books we haven't yet met but with those we already know intimately? As the poet Austin Dobson observed in 1908, new books "have neither part nor lot in our past of retrospect and suggestion. Of what we were, of what we like or liked, they know nothing; and we—if that be possible—know even less of them." The solution was so obvious I wondered why every magazine didn't do it: we'd open our books section with an essay not on reading something new but on rereading something old.

And thus these Rereadings were born. In each issue of the Scholar, a distinguished writer chose a book (or a story or a poem or even, in one case, an album cover) that had made an indelible impression on him or her before the age of twenty-five and reread it at thirty or fifty or seventy. The object of the writer's affections might be famous or obscure; a venerated classic or a piece of beloved trash; a fairy tale read as a child, a novel read in the throes of first love, a reference work that guided the early stages of a career.

In short order the Rereadings became the most popular part of the magazine. Perhaps that it because they weren't conventional literary criticism; they were about relationships. The relationship between reader and book, like all relationships that matter, changes over time. A book that seemed a fount of wisdom to a fifteen-year-old might seem a trough of hogwash to a fifty-year-old; on the other hand, passages that were once dull or incomprehensible might be transformed by life experience from dross into gold. The Rereadings, as it turned out, revealed at least as much about the readers as about the books. Each was a miniature memoir at whose heart lay that most galvanic of topics, the evolving nature of love. Even if decades had passed, many of the writers remembered the color of the original book cover, the chair they'd sat in, the season, the time of day. Of course they did! Don't you remember the room in which you lay with your first lover, the way the bed faced, the color of the sheets, whether the pillows were soft or lumpy?

This book contains my seventeen favorite Rereadings: favorite not just because they're so good but because they're so dissimilar. Though all the writers are American, they live in five different countries; the books they write about represent eight nationalities. Their perspectives, their literary styles, and their senses of humor are as variegated as a patchwork quilt assembled partly from Balenciaga gowns, partly from torn blue jeans. But all of these essays pursue the same fugitive quarry—the nature of the reading—and, taken together, they have helped me understand why the reader who plucks a book from her shelf only once is as deprived as the listener who, after attending a single performance of a Beethoven symphony, never hears it again.

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