Rereading

Posted: July 26, 2017 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

So, I’ve been thinking about reading and rereading books. How is it that the book is totally different than the last time I read it?

I don’t often reread books, at least books that I am not teaching over and over. There are so many I haven’t read once yet, that I tend to move on rather than review. When I do reread with significant time in between readings, it is surprising how the books change when I am not looking. Why is this not making the news?

A number of years ago this happened with To Kill A Mockingbird. I read it when I was in middle school, saw the movie with Gregory Peck, loved the name Scout, and had vivid memories of the trial and the neighbor saying she would die “beholden to nothin’ and nobody.” And that’s how it stayed in my mind. Then, I reread the book in anticipation of using it in a sample teaching lesson for an interview many years ago. I was shocked to find that the trial parts had shrunk so much over the years. And, why did so much other stuff got added? Where did that come from?

Now the same thing has happened again. The stealthy editing gods have struck while I was busy doing something else. This time the victim was The Odyssey. Again, I read it in high school. I taught Ancient Greece to 5th graders, and read Bernard Evslin’s The Adventures of Ulysses with my 5th graders every year. Now, I am rereading the non-junior version of The Odyssey (Fagels’ translation) and again shocked to find that someone has been messing with the story. The “adventures” have been shrunk and Telemachus has taken over the beginning. Evslin’s retelling highlighted the wily Odysseus’ heroic qualities, making it clear why he was the leader at every turn, while not sugarcoating his responsibility for the loss of his men. The monsters and immortals were a diverse team of challengers who tried every trick in the book to keep him from Ithaca. When he finally got home, the suitors were in trouble. No changes there, although Evslin certainly got to the point more quickly.

Although these particular examples occurred years apart, they highlight just how unreliable memory, or at least my memory, is. I’ve been reading up on the brain and learning and memory recently. So, I know, in my brain, that the more times we recall a memory the stronger it gets, AND every time we recall a memory we also may change it. It’s such a double whammy. If you don’t keep recalling the memory you lose it, but by recalling it becomes less and less like the original memory.

I have some questions for myself:

  • What about the trial in To Kill a Mockingbird made me come back to it again and again in a way that other parts of the book did not?
  • Why did the line “I want to die beholden to nothin’ and nobody” make such an impression, if, in fact, that is even the correct line?
  • Do other people enjoy all that Telemachus bit at the beginning or are they waiting for the adventures too?
  • Did Odysseus always do so much weeping? Why didn’t I remember that?

Anyone else have a book that has changed on them?

 

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