Rereading begins in the comments written in the margins, the underlined phrases and scribbled footnotes; but especially in the objects left behind between the pages. […] After rooting about in one of the boxes, I finally find Écrire in a pile, between Natalia Ginzburg’s Lessico famigliare and Robert Walser’s The Walk. It’s been many years since I read Marguerite Duras. I’m afraid to reread her in case, this time, she bores me or seems affected. Or worse, in case I remember the person I was when I first read her, and dislike myself in her.
I open the book but don’t read anything. Instead, I find between the pages an Indian railway ticket from my teenage years: Return Ticket. Train No. 6346. Trivandrum Central to Victoria Central Station. One six zero Rupees only, no refunds please. Happy Journey.
Going back to a book is like returning to the cities we believe to be our own, but which, in reality, we’ve forgotten and been forgotten by. In a city—in a book—we vainly revisit passages, looking for nostalgias that no longer belong to us. Impossible to return to a place and find it as you left it—impossible to discover in a book exactly what you first read between its lines. We find, at best, fragments of objects among the debris, incomprehensible marginal notes that we have to decipher to make our own again.
My memories of the two years I lived in India as a teenager are fragmentary, ephemeral, almost trivial. I conserve impossible images. There are faces that I only manage to recall in two dimensions. I visualize myself in the third person, always in the same clothes—a long, scrambled egg–yellow dress, my hair tied back with a white handkerchief—walking along the same street, which, I suspect, is a superimposition of many streets. I know that some memories are a later fabrication: fantasies embroidered during a casual conversation, exaggerations sculpted in the different versions of a paragraph I wrote over and again in my letters home.
I do, however, remember the books I read during the years I lived there and the voracity and devotion with which I underlined certain sections of them—sometimes entire paragraphs were underscored twice, once in pencil and once in ink. I think it was Gertrude Stein who used to say that people become civilized before they turn twenty. I don’t know if I’d become civilized by then—or if I ever shall—but I did become a reader during those years and have never again read a book with the same sense of rapture. My world was shaped by books—not vice versa. A train journey—the chai vendors; the blue plastic seats that made your legs sweat; the impossibly large families picnicking on the floor of the carriages; the immense, beautiful, complex, Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist, Orwell’s essays, Borges’s Ficciones. I used to sit on the steps of one of the open doors at the end of a carriage and light a cigarette, take out a pen and pencil for underlining, and read until my eyes burned.
Remembering, according to etymologists, is “bringing back to the heart.” The heart, however, is merely an absentminded organ that pumps blood. But rereading is not like remembering. It’s more like rewriting ourselves: the subtle alchemy of reinventing our past through the twice-underscored words written by others.
Valeria Luiselli, ‘Sidewalks’.
I suppose one of the main reasons for our wanting to reread a book is because we want to attempt at “bringing back to the heart” that, which at one time had made its presence so keenly felt, and had managed to leave its mark on us during the course of our first reading. It is often with the hope of recapturing that which had once held us captive, that motivates us to return to its pages, I guess.
Is there any book or writer in particular that you find yourself wanting to go back to, time and again? I always have the feeling that I cannot afford to reread, as there are just too many unread books waiting to be dived into, as it is.
I know this is erroneous thinking on my side. I think we all need a little reminder at different points in our lives, of the person we used to be, and of how far we’ve journeyed to arrive at the reader/ person that we are today.