I don't think I've ever read a novel twice though I've often wanted to. I won't let myself because it feels wasteful -- why should I read something a second time when there's so much great literature I've never touched? I'll reread short stories and essays because they're less of a commitment and their lessons are tight. Recently, a coworker expressed frustration with her eight-year-old daughter, a voracious reader who only wants to read the books she's already read. I envied her a little.
A few years ago, I had a boyfriend with a short list of favorite things, which he consumed on repeat. He watched the same movies again and again, listened to the same handful of bands and reread his favorite books. I found his predilection infuriating and made it my mission to introduce him to new things. Occasionally he'd be converted, but mostly it was like trying to make a kid take his medicine. I'd play something unfamiliar to him on my Ipod and he'd grimace. I'd grow irrationally annoyed. If I met him today, I like to think I'd be more forgiving.
A book I've been wanting to reread lately is The Corrections (funnily, a book on said ex's short list. At the time we dated, he'd read it seven times). I read Freedom shortly after it was published and was disappointed. For the past six months, I've been dealing (or not dealing) with some family dysfunction from a comfortable 350-mile distance, and The Corrections keeps popping into my head. I might cave and do the bad thing: read it again.
I just finished listening to Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story as an audiobook. I'm not totally sure how I feel about it -- it's a little slick and gimmicky for my usual taste. I wonder if my opinion would be more developed had I read it the old-fashioned way. That said, most readers and critics are really hung up on the satirical aspects of the novel, which are either dazzling or heavy-handed: a disturbing portrait of a completely networked, youth and consumer-driven culture in the not-so-distant future, a world without privacy. But I got wrapped up in the romance, which was indeed super sad, and felt so true to me in certain parts, that toward the end of the recording, en route to one of my libraries, I had to pull my car off the I-10 and cry.
This particular library involves a longer commute, which I don't really mind because it's only three days a week and I can catch up on Podcasts and audiobooks. I discovered my love for audiobooks on a cross-country roadtrip with another ex, and I'm a little embarrassed by it. It carries the stigma of the old lady whose eyes are too weak for even a large-print edition. But it reminds me of my favorite part of elementary school -- the half-hour my teachers spent reading aloud to the class: Cricket in Times Square. The Chronicles of Narnia. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. A Wrinkle in Time.
It is not happenstance that many of the people closest to me are great storytellers.
As I've grown older, I've definitely become more of a listener than a talker (at least when booze is off the table). David Rakoff wrote in Half-Empty, "There is no better way to conceal oneself than by listening to others," and when I read that line recently, it got to me.
The other night, I went to a friend's house and unloaded some of the family garbage I've been hauling around lately. He listened as I articulated a few things I've been afraid to say out loud. Later, when we parted ways in front of his building, he apologized for not being able to give me advice. I hadn't been looking for advice though -- everyone is always telling each other what to do. I just wanted to talk and be heard.
To be fair to Mr. Rakoff, the quote in its entirety: "There is no better way to conceal oneself than by listening to others.... Let me add that there is also, perhaps, no greater kindness."