Friday, February 6, 2015

Blast from the Past: On Re-Readings

Note: This is another old blog post I found in the middle of the night. Why did I never post this? It has some good stuff in it. Enjoy.

I have this half-formed thought I've been carrying around for a while now which I will now attempt to fully form and share with y'all at the same time. Probably this thought arises from the inordinate amount of time I spend consuming media in my college graduate, part-time bookseller, full-time unsure of my next major life step life status. In fact, I know it comes from at least the bookseller portion of my life right now, and here's why.

Very early on in my now four plus months as a Meg Ryan in You've Got Mail bookshop girl, I found myself standing at table full of great nonfiction titles. The biography of Neil Armstrong, several titles by David McCullough, Angela's Ashes, Team of Rivals--I had read none of the books on that table, but I wanted to read basically all of them. And I thought to myself, "If I read absolutely nothing else this year, I still wouldn't have time to read all of the books on even one side of this table." To a bibliophile like me, that was a depressing thought.

I only let myself get further overwhelmed as I looked around at the dozens of bookshelves surrounding me in the decent-sized bookstore where I work, and it dawned on me that even if no more books were ever published, I wouldn't even have time to read all the books in our store in my lifetime. (Granted, there are entire shelves of books that I would have no problem skipping...the romance section for instance...due to their lack of literary merit. But still.)

This thought took up residence in the back of my mind, not quite nagging away at me but making its presence known nonetheless. Quickly, the thought had grown, telling my mind that not only would I never be able to read everything I wanted to, but I would also never see all the great movies or even catch up to my Netflix queue. 

Eventually, this dooming thought made friends with another thought: the thought that there are certain books, movies, and TV shows that I have already read or seen that I will no doubt read or view again, in spite of the fact that I am already wasting my time by not checking off items in the huge imaginary To-Do List of Lifetime Media Consumption I have created for myself--with the assistance of Goodreads, IMDB, and Flixster. I was wasting my time re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird every summer instead of making friends with Leo Tolstoy. All my repeated viewings of 13 Going on 30 would mean nothing if I somehow missed out on some other unknown rom-com gem. And I didn't even want to think about all the times I have re-watched movies just to remember why I don't like them. (Blog post on this subject to follow.)

I had reached a postmodern paradox: I wanted to experience everything, but I knew I could not. All of this deep thinking exhausted my already emotionally strained mind, until I realized that the desire to re-experience was the solution to the whole problem. How? Here's how.

Remember that scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Sean Connery as Dr. Henry Jones Sr. opens his umbrella on the beach and runs at all the seagulls, causing a plane to crash and saving himself and his son, Indy, from the evil Nazis? (As opposed to all those nice Nazis...) What does he say to Indy to explain this erratic behavior? "I just remembered my Charlemagne." Unfortunately, I'm not well-read enough to know what Dr. Jones is actually quoting, but the principle of the scene applies. Because the answer to my problem is "I remembered my Shakespeare."

The single most famous Shakespearean soliloquy comes from Hamlet. You know it as "The 'To Be Or Not To Be' Speech." But it contains a well-stated concept that acted like a soothing balm on my situation. "...makes us rather bear those ills we have, / Than fly to others that we know not of." Just like Henry Jones quoting Charlemagne, it might seem like gibberish out of context like this, but I couldn't quote the whole sentence because there's a lot of flowery language about Death personified that doesn't really apply. In fact, strictly speaking, the quote I gave is Hamlet explaining why a lot of people choose not to commit suicide, which has nothing to do with my situation. But at its core, this quote says that if we know the qualities of something, we're apt to keep those somethings around instead of replacing them with others that we don't know.

Translating this into the dilemma of never finishing the World Library, I realized that I'm just "bearing the ills" I know and love by re-reading and re-watching books and shows that I already know have wisdom that suits my style. And I'm okay with not flying to all the "others that I know not of" all the time. I'm okay with not being consumed with the consumption of new media.

But then the thought went even deeper. Because I've been thinking about all the great friends I've had at different periods of my life and thinking about when the Ultimate Friend will show up--the one that I will love so much that I will marry him. And suddenly that Ultimate Friend became like a really good book, or a great TV show, or a fabulous movie. With him, just once won't be enough. I'll have to keep re-reading and re-watching to discover all the nuances and details I didn't notice before, little tidbits that make him even better on a 322nd viewing, or a 456th read through. Sure, I'll have my favorite parts that I've highlighted or that I skip to on the DVD when I need a quick pick me up. But the whole goal of having him in my life will be to know and appreciate the whole package. And that will take repeated screenings. And readings. And it won't matter that I don't know every single person on earth, because I'll know him. The quality of us will mean so much more than the quantity of them.

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