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I rarely read a book more than once. It just seems like poor time management: why retread old ground when yet to be discovered books lie in wait? Of course I’ve made exceptions, but generally that’s exactly what they are: exceptions, special authors whose books have something new to offer upon further examination. I usually go back for the authorship rather than the singular work. I first read the Lord of the Rings trilogy in grade school. Reading it for the first time, that young, it warranted repeat readings. I read it again in high school and twice in college. I’m now reading McCarthy’s The Crossing for the second time (in the interest of full disclosure I’ve read Blood Meridian three times).
The first time I read a book I usually can’t be hampered with deep philosophic insight. I appreciate it and it certainly makes an impression, but I don’t dwell on profundity. I move along with the pace of the novel. On initial reads I use one bookmark to mark progress. The bookmark moves in a single direction (hopefully) not lingering long in one place. This isn’t the case when I revisit a great book. Four or five bookmarks are currently poking out of The Crossing , marking passages and conversations that as brilliant as I find them now, were simply glossed over in my first reading. One such passage is situated in the middle of a deeply profound rumination on religion. A priest is telling our young traveler of a man who not only questions the existence of God, but challenges God to act. To make Himself (herself, itself) known. To speak up so that he may bear witness. The culmination of the tale finds the would- be heretic engaging in a philosophic dual with a priest, the priest trying to convince the man of God’s omniscience. The heretic sets up his quarters beneath a precariously hanging church obelisk. He yells at the heavens for God to drop the structure on top of him. This passage, this frame story, takes up 30 pages or so. The first time I read The Crossing I skipped through a large chunk of this subplot. It was a stumbling block to the larger story and the parable seemed clumsy and turgid. But now, I find the passage deeply moving. I’ve gone over it backwards and forwards several times. I was moved by it as nothing before throughout the story at large. In one such passage that I keep coming back to, the heretic describes the priest as follows:
''The priest..a man of broad principles. Of liberal sentiments. Even a generous man...Yet one might say that his way through the world was so broad it scarcely made a path at all.’
There are quite a few other passages that carried the same weight for me as the above. I’m not sure if I’ve learned much else than the obvious, that it sometimes behooves the reader to either a) take your time when reading a novel or b) go back and see what you’ve missed. The bigger question for me is whether to revisit authors that I felt ambivalent about at first, rather than the ones who already made an impact. Will they bestow a new level of depth or will I simply be retreading old, tired ground?