the joys of reading (and rereading)
returning to old favourites, slow reading and reading as a way of life
Hello! It’s Tuesday, so I’m back to give you another piece of writing I hope you’ll enjoy. I’ve done a lot of reading this past week. I’ve been rereading my favourite book of all time, The Secret History by Donna Tartt, and I also recently started reading Yellowface by Rebecca F. Kuang.
Although I’m only about 40 pages into Yellowface, I’ve found myself so immersed in the story and I’m loving it already. It made me reflect on how grateful I am to live in a world with books, books that I can access whenever I want and transport myself into a completely different world or become someone else entirely. So this week, I wanted to write a little something dedicated to the wonderful art of reading. Hope you enjoy.
I recently picked up my favourite book about a month or so ago and admired it like I usually do, thanked it for giving me a personality like I usually do and wondered about rereading it which I never do. I have always been afraid to return to things I once loved so deeply for the fear that if I looked at it now, it wouldn’t bring me as much joy as it did then, and then the realisation that I had been walking around like a fraud would deflate me.
The Secret History is one of those books, surely, that would stand the test of time, “a modern classic” some call it, but what if I didn’t agree? What if, like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the novelty has worn off and it was only good in my mind, in my fading memories. (Note: if you watched TPOBAW when you were around 16 and thinking of rewatching it in your 20s, maybe give that a miss.)
I have always looked at this book—ironically—with both adoration and fear, much like the major themes of the novel; beauty and terror. The prose is like nothing I have ever read before, alluring, assured, even righteous at times (untranslated Greek) and the characters, out of the many books that I have read in my time, are probably the only ones I cherish deeply and that live within me (Henry sits closest to my heart).
This book practically raised me—as a 19/20-year-old at university. I’ve lived tirelessly by the dark academia aesthetic ever since I found out this book existed; muted and neutral colours; living and dying for the arts, literature, philosophy, study and all things beautiful; writing devastating prose and heartfelt poetry, by candlelight of course, all things which The Secret History encompasses perfectly, something I’m sure Donna wasn’t thinking about when she wrote this book in 1992. I felt like I finally found my place in the world when I discovered the lifestyle behind this book, especially after years of struggling to find out who I was. But it seemed I’d put this book on such a pedestal even I couldn’t even reach it myself.
I joined Bookstagram recently, Instagram but make it purely about books, and it was the best decision I’ve made in a long time. I had always admired these bookish accounts and thought I could never make my own account as I don’t read nearly as much as them. They post every day sometimes so that must mean they read about 40 books a month, right? To my pleasant surprise, this was not accurate. Some accounts admit to reading slumps, in which someone hasn’t felt like picking up a book in weeks sometimes months, but they still happily post pictures of books for the joys of simply looking at them, posing with them, positioning them along with their other trinkets and tote bags from favourite bookshops, because books and literature is more than just reading, it’s a way of life.
To be a reader doesn’t mean having your nose in a book at all times, sometimes it means carrying one with you everywhere, walking into bookshops just for the comfort it brings, perhaps buying a couple to add to your collection at home, some of which you may never even read, collecting special pens just for annotating purposes and sticky tabs and bookmarks and book sleeves—the list goes on. Just recently I bought a reading journal from Papier (which is bloody gorgeous) that I plan to take with me everywhere for no reason at all, like a child who brings her favourite toy with her to the supermarket, or who carries a cute handbag filled with old takeaway menus, a marble and erasers just so she feels like her mother carrying her important handbag. There is so much more to reading than reading. In my mind anyway.
When autumn came, Bookstagram was filled with pictures of The Secret History, as well as other dark academia-esque books like If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio, Babel by R.F. Kuang, Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo and classical literature like The Picture of Dorian Gray and novels by Jane Austen. Autumn is dark academia’s moment in the sun, and I gradually became more and more tempted to pick up TSH and dive back into the world I have cherished so much over the years the more I saw pictures of the book. So I did.
Was I disappointed? Absolutely not.
If anything the book is even better than I remember. When I first read it, I ate it up so quickly I practically choked on it. This time, however, I am taking my time, being careful with every sentence and, of course, annotating practically every page. This book is so rich I’ve already run out of sticky tabs to mark my favourite moments and I’m down to about three or four left for my favourite Henry Winter moments. How could I have ever doubted this book, I have no idea When I read it the first time, I felt as if some parts went over my head, so this was the perfect time to revisit those themes and see if they made more sense this time around (which they do!)
I started rereading TSH back in December, maybe even November and I still have a couple hundred pages to go. It will definitely get another five stars from me even though I haven’t even finished it yet. I’m so glad I came back to this beloved novel (and bought another copy just so I can preserve and treasure my first one), it’s not just about the book and how good it is, it’s like reaffirming something within me.
I’m trying not to concentrate so much on the fact others have already read about eight books this year (I saw someone had read 35? What??) while I have been dissecting every sentence of the same book all month but I’m chalking it up to the slow living journey I am on this year. Slow reading definitely has its perks. I feel like I have fully digested and appreciated this book, something I hope to do with most of the books I read this year. I’ve only set a minimum goal of 24 books this year (without knowing there’s a #24in2024 happening this year, fun) so I can concentrate on getting through all the long books I neglected for an arbitrary reading goal last year. As long as I am spending as much time as I can/want to reading, I am on track.
Reading brings so much joy. If you’re struggling with ways to feel more joy, I definitely recommend getting some books and enjoying the subculture that comes along with it. There’s no set way to begin reading or a list of books you have to read, just pick one up and begin. The rest will come naturally.
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