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Re-reading: The ultimate guilty pleasure?

中国日报网 2014-05-27 10:07





With so many books and so little time, re-reading seems an indulgence. So why is it so popular? Hephzibah Anderson reveals why we do it – and why it’s such a joy.

How many times have you read your favourite book?

As parents learn with frustration, as small children we love immersing ourselves in the same story over and over. But in adulthood that joy tends to become a forgotten pleasure. We have so little time to read and there are so many great books that we’ve yet to get around to (War and Peace looms large on my literary guilt list− never mind the ceaseless tide of new releases). You could read a book a day for the rest of your life and still not make it through even a quarter of the titles published in 2013 in the UK alone. With the shelves thus groaning, pulling down a well-thumbed favourite feels an unconscionable indulgence.

Yet if my admittedly unscientific research on Facebook is anything to go by, furtive re-readers are everywhere in our midst. For certain fans, re-reading The Lord of the Rings is an annual ritual. Devotees of The Great Gatsby, Pride and Prejudice and Tess of the D’Urbervilles also return regularly to the book they prize above all others. One friend told me that Jane Austen’s Emma can still surprise him, despite his having reading it over 50 times.

Now, two new bibliomemoirs have arrived to showcase the insights – both literary and personal – that are to be gained from that ultimate guilty pleasure: re-reading. Journalist Rebecca Mead, a long-time Englishwoman in New York, first encountered George Eliot’s Middlemarch at 17. Since then, she has read it again every five years. With each re-reading, it has opened up further; in each chapter of her life – as she itched to leave home, as she moved to America, had love affairs and become a mother – it has resonated differently.

Reaching her 40s, Mead decided on a fresh approach: she would apply the tools of her day job to this private passion. Her aim was to discover what writing the novel meant to Eliot, and how reading it has shaped her own life. She chronicles her relationship in The Road to Middlemarch (published in the US as My Life in Middlemarch), a delightful book filled with sharp observations and told in a voice poised between chatty confidant and brilliant teacher.

Playwright Samantha Ellis has clocked up even more time with Wuthering Heights. She was 12 when she first read Emily Brontë’s gothic romance, and without fail, she’s returned to it annually in the run-up to her birthday. This year when she will turn 39 might just be the first time that she skips it, but only because all those re-readings have now inspired a book, How to Be a Heroine.

It begins with a heated conversation Ellis had with her best friend while on a pilgrimage to Yorkshire in the north of England, where the novel is set. Which heroine was best, Jane Eyre or Cathy Earnshaw? As they quarrelled, Ellis realised she’d spent her life trying to be Cathy when Jane was a far savvier role model. This sets her off on another journey, back to the books that shaped her ideas about how to move through the world as a woman. It’s a risky enterprise because, just as Mead knows, though the words on the page stay the same, our readings of them change.

Both Mead and Ellis testify to the myriad ways in which really good books not only stand the test of repeat reads, but also bestow fresh gifts each time we crack their spines. These kinds of books grow with us. The writers also explore the motivations behind re-reading.

For children, it’s a comfort. As we become accustomed to a world in which change is the only real constant, the familiarity of the book at bedtime is something to cling to. Adults aren’t immune to those feelings, either. To quote the septuagenarian writer Larry McMurtry: “If I once read for adventure, I now read for security. How nice to be able to return to what won’t change.”

Except that often, that’s not quite the case. We notice fresh details. Our interpretations change as we evolve – cheerleading for the strivers, for instance, gives way to admiration for characters who are slow and steady.

Vladimir Nabokov had a theory about this. He believed that the process of moving our eyes from left to right, line after line, page after page, stood between us and artistic interpretation the first time round. By the fourth reading, the experience has apparently assumed more of the directness of looking at a painting. “One cannot read a book: one can only re-read it,” he said.

Scientists have weighed in, too, citing the mental health benefits of re-reading. Research conducted with readers in the US and New Zealand found that on our first reading, we are preoccupied by the ‘what?’ and the ‘why?’. Second time round, we’re able to better savour the emotions that the plot continues to ignite. As researcher Cristel Russell of the American University explained of re-readers in an article published in the Journal of Consumer Research, returning to a book “brings new or renewed appreciation of both the object of consumption and their self”.

Heart of the matter

It’s true that we often find former selves on the pages of old books (literally, if we’re fond of scribbling in the margins). But even without the aid of marginalia, these texts can carry us back to a time and place, and remind us of the kind of person that we were then.

We’re changed not only by lived experience but also by read experience – by the books that we’ve discovered since last reading the one in our hand.

More so than the movie director or the musician, the writer calls upon our imaginations, using words to bid us picture this declaration of love or that betrayal. It’s not surprising that in my social media poll, of the many and varied titles that people returned to, only one was non-fiction (Enemies of Promise, Cyril Connolly’s hybrid of literary criticism and memoir). A book is a joint project between writer and reader, and for its alchemy to work, we must pour so much of ourselves into reading that our own life story can become braided with the story that’s bound between the book’s covers.

Perhaps what’s really strange is that we don’t re-read more often. After all, we watch our favourite films again and we wouldn’t think of listening to an album only once. We treasure tatty old paperbacks as objects, yet of all art forms, literature alone is a largely one-time delight. A book, of course, takes up more time, but as Mead and Ellis confirm, the rewards make it amply worthwhile. They needn’t be anointed classics, either. Sabbath’s Theatre by Philip Roth, EL Doctorow’s Ragtime and Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch are all on my re-reading list – just as soon as I’ve finished War and Peace, that is.





但如果我在脸书(Facebook)上做的非科学调查有那么一丁点参考价值的话,我想我们之中仍然有许多人在重拾旧书。那些魔戒(Lord of the Rings)迷每年必回看原著,对他们来说,这是一个仪式。许多人对《了不起的盖茨比》(The Great Gatsby),《傲慢与偏见》(Pride and Prejudice)或是《苔丝》(Tess of the D’Urbervilles)称赞有加,他们也会定期重读经典。我的朋友告诉我他已把简·奥斯丁(Jane Austen )的《艾玛》(Emma)翻了起码五十遍,但每次读都会有新发现。


米德在四十岁时做了一个新的决定:她决定拾起笔杆,书写自己心中的情感。米德打算深入研究《米德镇的春天》这本书对艾略特来说是否有重大意义,并结合自身经历,谈谈这本书如何塑造了自己。米德成功撰写了《通往米德镇之路》(The Road to Middlemarch)一书,并融入了自己的经历(美版名为《我在米德镇的日子》),该书销路甚广,见解独到,作者像一位睿智的师长,又像一位健谈的知己,向你讲述米德镇和她的故事。

萨曼莎·埃利斯是一位剧作家,她花了许多时间研究《呼啸山庄》(Wuthering Height)。十二岁时埃利斯第一次读艾米莉·勃朗特(Emily Brontë)的这本哥特式浪漫小说,她立刻身陷其中,欲罢不能,从此每当生日前夕,埃利斯就要重读这本书。今年是埃利斯的第三十九个生日,但她不得不打破这一传统,因为她要完成新书《如何成为一个女主人公》(How to Be a Heroine),该书是埃利斯在反复阅读《呼啸山庄》后的有感而发之作。

埃利斯曾与好友结伴前往英格兰北部的约克郡(Yorkshire),途中两人曾就《呼啸山庄》有过一次激烈讨论,由此定下该书的写作事宜。简·爱(Jane Eyre)和凯瑟琳·恩肖(Cathy Earnshaw)谁更伟大?讨论过后,埃利斯才意识到她将简·爱视为偶像,渴望像她一样独立,实际上却一直在向凯瑟琳看齐。为此,她又重回书中,开启一趟心灵之旅,终于了解如何像一个真正的女人那样生活。写自己的感悟其实很难,就像米德所说的,经典还是经典,我们在不同年龄阶段的感悟却不同。


对于孩子来说,读书是一种享受。现实世界瞬息万变,而读书可以使我们放松。孩子一旦养成了睡前阅读的习惯便会一直保持。对成年人来说也一样。 正如老年作家拉里·麦克默特里(Larry McMurtry)所说,“从前我读书是为了寻求新奇感,现在我读书是为了寻求安全感,书中世界平稳安逸,读书能使我放松。”


对此,弗拉基米尔·纳博科夫(Vladimir Nabokov)就有相应的看法。他认为,人在第一次读一本书时眼睛需要从左向右逐行逐页的移动,这会干扰人们对文字的艺术性解读。当读到第四遍时,出于对文本的熟悉,人们再看书就像看一幅画那样直接。“读书这个说法并不恰当,一本书是不能被一次性读懂的,只能去重读。”

经过反复验证,科学家也表示,阅读旧书有益于我们的身心健康。通过对美国和新西兰的读者进行调查,发现我们读完第一遍书时,心中难免会存疑。当我们再次拿起书本,才能品味细节,才能随着情节发展,体会心潮起伏的感觉。美国一所大学的研究员克里斯特·罗素曾在《消费者研究》(Consumer Research)杂志就重读旧书这一问题发表了一篇文章,文章指出,重读旧书不仅能加深对书的理解,也能增进读者的自我认识。




比起导演和音乐家,作家更能激发我们的想象力,那些爱,誓言以及背叛,种种情感都由作者寥寥数语勾勒而出,具象化地浮现在我们眼前。我在各个社交网站上发布调查,询问别人正在重读的书籍,回复中只有西里尔·康诺利(Cyril Connolly)的《希望的敌人》(Enemies of Promise)一书不是虚构故事而是文学评论及回忆录合集。书籍将作者与读者联结起来,而为了达到这种效果,我们必须在阅读时将书的内容与自己的生活经历相关联,以便与之产生共鸣。

也许,更多时候我们应该问问自己为什么不经常翻翻旧书。毕竟,我们会挑出自己喜欢的电影反复看,也会把一张唱片听上好几遍。我们把破旧的平装书当做宝贝,却鲜少重读它们。不可否认的是,读一本书就会占据我们很多时间,但正如米德和埃利斯所说,重读旧书会是我们收获颇丰。我们不一定要读那些文学经典,我的清单上列出的重读书目有:菲利普·罗斯(Philip Roth)的《安息日剧院》(Sabbath’s Theatre),EL·多克托罗(EL Doctorow)的《拉格泰姆》(Ragtime),唐娜·塔特(Donna Tartt)的《金翅雀》(The Goldfinch),——等我看完《战争与和平》(War and Peace)就去重翻这些旧书。

(译者 rosemary02 编辑 丹妮)


重读旧书:基于内疚的快感? 重读旧书:基于内疚的快感?



















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