A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Estella - Falling In Love Again
Sunday, May 31, 2009

Coincidentally on Saturday I read two essays on books. On the editorial page of the NY Times there was Verlyn Klinkenborg’s Some Thoughts on the Pleasures of Being a Re-Reader and in the Vancouver Sun convergence editor Rick Ouston (never one for smiling on cue) wrote how a condo leak precipitated him into getting rid of most of his books in Bookshelf clearout, a heresy brought by condo repairs.

With the exception of “reference books survived the cut, along with a few favourite novels, books by friends, my own scribblings and some borrowed screeds that I must really return to their owners…” Ouston stated, “…at the end, I felt a sense of relief, like a glass of cold water on a hot day.”

If anything Ouston’s essay makes my eventual (soon, I would say ) decision on what to do with all the books I have acquired since I began buying them, even more poingnant, terryfing, stressful, and finally so depressing. How does one get rid of books? In Ouston’s case the leaks on his walls pushed the decision forward. In my case as Rosemary and I look at the eventual selling of the house I understand that there will be simply no room for all the books and the multiple antique bookcases of our present home.

Fortunately the sadness precipitated by Ouston’s screed and further magnified by gazing on his taciturn and almost melancholy face in the photograph that accompanied the article, was ameliorated a touch by the far happier tone of Klinkengborg’s musings on re-reading books. He asserts:

The real secret of re-reading is simply this: It is impossible. The characters remain the same, and the words never change, but the reader always does. Pip is always there to be revisited, but you the reader, are a little like the convict who surprises him in the graveyard – always a stranger.

I had to smile when I read this as both Klinkenborg and I often re-read Great Expectations.

I re-read often and I have a few favourites. Two are Daphne Du Maurier’s. The House on the Strand after repeated re-readings has yet to reveal to me the mysteries of its ending. The other, The Scapegoat I will perhaps not re-read further. I was finally able to see the film version with Alec Guinness and Bette Davis.

There are two science fiction books that surprise me every time I reprise them. One is Arthur C Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama and the other is Walter M. Miller Jr’s A Canticle for Leibovitz .

In “literature” I often re-read Mario Vargas Llosa’s The War of the End of The World and at least once a year I revisit Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory. I am a sucker for any of Jerome Charyn's Isaac Sidels but Blue Eyes is my fave.

I have finished P.C Wren’s Beau Geste at least three times sometime in the middle of the night and nautical novels are a particular passion. I have read both C.S. Forrester’s Hornblower novels and Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin series twice. In particular O’Brian’s first of the series Master and Commander . That first meeting between the men at a concert that almost ends in a duel is sheer fun every time.

As I re-read I have come to understand that some of my novels may need to rest for a longer time period between readings. Perhaps in the next few months I will tackle Umberto Eco’s Focault’s Pendulum and Charles Palliser’s Quincunx.

Poetry has not been on my favourites list ever but there is one summer ritual I do not fail at. I read William Carlos Williams' Selected Poems . I am delighted that Rebecca agrees on me on this one. She has memorized the poem about the plums in the icebox.

No matter how I look at it, I know that the moment I may get rid of a book I would need it for reference purposes soon after and I would miss it by not having it.

Getting rid of my books would be like obliterating my memory and the living I have lived through them. There is always that thrill of falling in love, through Pip, with the icy Estella. Re-reading Great Expectations is like falling in love for the first time, every time.


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The Judge, The Lawyer & Mrs. Oakley Fisher

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The First Of The Season - Rosa sericea pteracantha...

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Madness At St. Jude's

A Sad Tone To A Pleasant Routine

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