I have never made a practice of watching a movie twice or reading the same book of fiction for a second time. What that says about me, I have no idea. Perhaps it reflects that to this point in my life, the riches of narrative seemed so enormous I didn't want to waste limited time treading well-worn ground; instead, I'm always looking forward to the next story. After all, the number of books on my potential to-read list approaches, let's say, half a million, and if I read 1-2 books a week, I'll be fortunate if I am able to read 5000 books in a lifetime.
Think about it. Five thousand is a pittance compared to the sea of fiction out there. It almost makes me cry to think about what I will miss. And grateful to know that as long as I can see (or hear, for that matter), I will never be alone.
But I find myself capitulating lately. I have decided to return to certain books I read years ago that made a particular impression on me. I wondered if I would have the same response at this time in my life, or could resurrect the feelings they evoked in an earlier version of me.
Some of the re-reads have been prompted by trying to follow a particularly enticing topic. I read--for the first time--Milan Kundera's Immortality. This was followed by noticing a call to submit pieces to a non-fiction contest with the theme of immortality. I wondered how the topic has been covered in fiction. In his book, Kundera uses immortality as a code for remembrance and legacy, in particular the difference between becoming immortalized for a body of work versus being long-remembered for gossip about one's life.
I should say that I have no idea what anyone means when they use the term immortality. "Living forever" would not seem to be a qualifying characteristic if one hasn't also "always been here"-- where ever "here" is. With our little human lives and minds, we are obviously not constructed to understand this concept. Still, immortality appeals to me as a metaphor, or as a platform for taking small bites of understanding, tasting, perhaps assimilating or excreting the idea of immortality, while enjoying the story.
I started my quest by re-reading Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, which was as much a joy on second read as it was the first time. In this story, he posits a class of clones that are raised to provide body parts for "real humans" whose lives are theoretically extended by this arrangement. It is a tender story that made asks deep questions such as what is anyone's purpose in living.
Skipping ahead to my current project, I am re-reading Doris Lessing series of fantasy/sci fi novels in the series, Canopos in Argus: Archives. One concept that grabbed my attention again in this fascinating series is the relative nature of longevity. Her intergalactic characters live for millennia, giving them plenty of time to observe evolution in species whose lifespans are more like earthbound humans. And again, posits that we are all subjugated, knowingly or not.
I now have quite a list of books to re-read. I'm not sure how long this phase will last. After all, there are still all those unread stories out there. And so little time.