Posts Tagged ‘rereading’

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?

 

So, I’ve been thinking about too many things. It’s all swirling around in my head and sometimes it gets overwhelming. I’m trying to find some books to hold me up, balance the yelling, and remind me that there is sense to be made.

fullsizerenderI turned to Maira Kalman. When my personal kids were younger, we used to read Last Stop Grand Central a lot. It was the basis of our first family trip to New York. We went to lots of the places we had read about over and over in the book. And, since my kids got me for a mom, we also spent more time that they might have liked in The Met.* Anyway, I have read and enjoyed a number of Ms. Kalman’s works and illustrations. I appreciate that she is an observer and a connector of disparate ideas. I would like to think that I connect ideas in a somewhat similar way. Although we have never met, when I read her books, I feel like we should be friends and take collecting walks together while wearing hats and stopping for snacks. Even though I know Ms. Kalman is not a Quaker, this is the phrase that comes mind when I read her books “that Friend speaks my mind.”

I need to read something that felt familiar, but that also seemed to make sense and that combined facts in ways to help me think about complex ideas rather than something that creates alternate facts to try to get me to simplify complex ideas. Ms. Kalman wrote And the Pursuit of Happiness after President Obama was first elected and she was feeling positive about the country. I would like to be able to feel that way about my country now. I remembered the optimism of the book; however, upon rereading it, I also appreciated the acknowledgment of conflict and imperfection in our origins and ourselves.

This set me on a Maira Kalman rereading adventure. Like my taxonomy projects, I thought 5 was a good number of her books to reread.

I reread The Principles of Uncertainty, which, not surprisingly given the title, is more disquieting. For example, she writes “my brain is exploding. Trying to make sense out of nonsense, trying to tell you everything (everything?) and all the while time is fleeing.” (p.11) Again, this Friend speaks my mind.

I reread Girls Standing on Lawn.

I reread My Favorite Things.

I reread Ah-ha to Zig-Zag.

(I didn’t reread Next Stop Grand Central)

I google her and wandered around her website. I read an interview with her on The Great Discontent.

For me, Ms. Kalman provides one model of how to think about the world in a personal way; she shares her favorite artworks and admires hats in one sentence and in the next takes on the contradictions in our nation’s founding documents.

 

*It is never too early to take a kid to an art museum, says me who strapped my daughter into the baby-bjorn carrier and headed to the Terra Museum in Chicago (sigh, so sad that it is gone) when she was 3 weeks old. It will not surprise anyone to know that she does not remember this trip.