Summer Reading


One cannot read a book, one can only reread it,” Vladimir Nabokov famously remarked. “A good reader, a major reader,” he explained, is necessarily a rereader because a book cannot be apprehended instantaneously the way a painting can be “taken in.” Only second, third, even fourth readings allow the mind to grasp its entirety.

Rereading, occurring over a lifetime, forms a kind of bookish autobiography. Jane Eyre, for example, might first companion a lonely girlhood, then return during a miserable divorce, and finally surface on a cruise in old age like a long lost friend in the next deck chair—a different book each time because a different reader. Wendy Lesser, the editor of the Threepenny Review, has written a wonderful memoir based on this premise, Nothing Remains the Same: Rereading and Remembering (Mariner Books, $13, 256 pp.).

Though the notion of rereading is perhaps antithetical to our throw-away culture, anyone who teaches be-comes a champ rereader, a recycler of narrative. But lately it’s been heavy lifting for readers of memoirs, the genre I practice and sometimes teach. What with the cheaters and liars, not to mention breathless self-promoters and heated competition for worst-tale-of-abuse, who...

To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.

About the Author

Valerie Sayers, professor of English at Notre Dame, is the author of six novels, including The Powers.