Somewhere in his Confessions of a Young Man, the late Irish novelist and turnip look-a-like George Moore warns us against re-reading books that have touched us during a certain period in our lives. We are receptive to particular books at particular moments: this can hardly be denied. If you catch a book in the wrong moment, its magic has a habit of melting. If you re-read a book hoping to recapture a good moment, it is far more likely that you will receive nothing more than a faint, flattened echo of that moment. A book that charmed us in our adolescence will only disappoint us in our middle-age. So why re-read? It is but a recipe for disillusionment, no?
Just so. I have re-read many a book that thrilled me as a young man only to find it drained of its vitality – or over-indulging in the same – the second time around. This would seem to be a shame. But does it follow that I should thus steer away from the business of re-reading, or is there not a richer experience lurking without the shadows of sadness? A book changes on re-reading: this is something to be cherished, surely, rather than regretted? Johannes Speyer would have never have shirked the task of re-reading on the basis that it might ruin an earlier experience; that a moment of magic might melt before his eyes. Let the magic melt, he’d have said! A book gives us different things at different moments. Not all of these things are pleasant, but that doesn’t mean that one should toss the book aside and dream of happier times. Read, re-read and re-read again. Keep giving yourself to a book and it will keep giving things back.