Friday, February 19, 2016

How to Recognize the You Who Rereads an Older Novel

The vast galaxies of commercial and literary fiction are each populated with tales of individuals at some critical time in their life, encountering their doppleganger, or physical double. Another favored literary device is the meeting of twins, separated at birth, reunited by accident. 


Yet an other device exploratory of the self is the one so elegantly depicted by Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in which the separate parts reside within the same individual. Seeming to spring directly from these popular themes is the one of an individual impersonating with some measure of success a long missing husband or wife.

A current project of yours, The Hundred Novels You Must Read before You Write Your Own, has brought you in close contact with versions of yourself at various times in your life, brought to your attention with persistence because of your ongoing relationship with the hundred novels that made the cut from those additional novels you reckon to have some effect on your life.

You begin your discussion of each of these hundred novels with the time line of when they were published, a fact you list only for reference. But then you move into your state of awareness at your first meeting, an awareness that has already reminded you more than once of the you on a first date.

The opening to your discussion of Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis beings; "The first time I read this novel, I was still at an age where I took things for granted, did not kick the tires or look under surfaces." Your discussion leads you through insightful individual discoveries, contributions to the writer you are (or are not) and by extension, the person you now are ) or are not). 

Your working approach to your discussions of these hundred novels is to stay with the conversation until you are now faced with your attraction for the book in question, but also the specific things you've learned to do or not to do when you engage the process of composition and the aftermath of composition, which is revision.

Keeping the Kafka as an example, you've likely read that title ten times since age fourteen or fifteen, moving from the you who tended to take things at face value, rather than looking at a story the way you do now, over half a century later. You see a kind of progress, the literary and emotional equivalents of scrunching yourself up against a door frame while your mother indicates your height and the date.

At one point, barely in your teens, you asked your mother why she did not do this with you and your sister, considering the number of individuals you knew whose parents performed this ritual. "We've moved too many times for that to have any meaning," your mother replied. If you'd thought the matter through, you'd have recognized that answer as probable and practical. The fact that you had to ask is of itself a measure of who you were then.

Having embarked on this process to the point where it is well along and you are in the process of learning a number of things from it, you have before you something of greater value than a few scribbled pencil marks on a door frame. 

You see in effect a time table of your growth from the point of gobbling story the way some individuals with chronic pain gobble opiates. You were, in fact, enduring the pains of boredom and the frustration of adult supervision.  Ah, at last free to stay up all night reading or writing or listening to music, you were able to take suggestions from men and women who'd put in their time, studying their craft and emerging with weighted opinions.

Time for you to see how you'd grown--or not, and how much more you still need to engage in order to, literally and figuratively, live with yourself.

One of the novels you've only made notes on, and have only read twice since its recent (2006) publication, is Richard Powers The Echo Maker, which goes among other places to the essence of the self and the individuals wandering about within a person. You were far enough along your chosen path to be impressed with the novel after the first read and to know of it that its inclusion would displace one or two others stories that were perhaps less taxing. This is the exact point of your book. By the time you;ll have reached it in its place in your outline, you'll be alive and alert with the excitement of rereading. For certain, the time is not all that long past when you'd have had difficulty staying with this novel, much less learning so much from it.

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