Thursday, July 22, 2010

On Reading and Re-Reading

It's an old saw that suggests "If you cannot enjoy reading a book over and over, there is no use in reading it in the first place."

I couldn't agree more. For despite the continual pressure to follow trends, stay edgy, keep up to date, get ahead of the curve and so on, I'd guess a full 4/5 of my reading in recent years has actually been re-reading. Yeah, 4/5 easy.

Some would blame this on my poor memory or perhaps my age (at 59 now, I'm especially well-suited for curmudgeon status) and they'd probably be right to do so. But even more pertinent, I believe, is my appreciation of quality -- and I argue that the best books are the old books. So why not keep learning from and enjoying them the most?

The last few weeks are exemplary. For instance, on Monday evening Matt, Claire and I, John and Barb, Chet, Allen and Cindy all gathered here to discuss Money, Possessions and Eternity, a remarkably instructive and challenging book written by Randy Alcorn. We had a great time talking about the book, a very thorough Bible study that we all found of tremendous value. I know I certainly found it illuminating and provocative...just as I did the first time I read it back in the late 80s in preparation for a radio interview with the author. And just like then, the book has prompted Claire and I to shake some things up with our finances and our outlook. Old books, properly applied, do lead to new actions.

In other reading of late, there have been a couple of new titles. The May selection for the Notting Hill Napoleons (our longstanding book club) was The Steel Wave by Jeff Shaara. It is the author's second of his World War II trilogy, one which describes the preparation for and first few days of the Normandy landings. It is an excellent read, very enjoyable as history and novel both. Though our club concentrates on classic literature with few living authors making the cut, Shaara has still become one of our favorites.

In fact, when the designated June book turned out to be a clunker (Voyage to Arcturus), we opted to take as our alternate choice, Shaara's final WWII book, No Less Than Victory, in which he concentrates on the Battle of the Bulge. Like we have come to expect, it it was an enlightening, exciting page-turner dealing with an important part of our nation's history.

But, as thoroughly satisfying as these new books were, they ended up whetting my appetite to return to a few "tried and true" historians of the same period. So, I raced through David Howarth's D-Day (the 1959 book that is really a rare find nowadays) and Walter Lord's Lonely Vigil: Coastwatchers of the Solomons before getting into the heavier Infamy: Pearl Harbor and its Aftermath by Walter Toland. The last one is a troubling, even infuriating read because Toland painstakingly documents the bonehead errors Washington made (if that's all they were) in not passing along to Admiral Husband Kimmel and Lt. General Walter Short the latest and best intelligence information concerning the expected Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

All of these were re-reads, the Lord book being a favorite I return to every decade or so.

Next up in my reading list is another I've previously enjoyed (Rafael Sabatini's Fortune's Fool, July's Notting Hill Napoleons pick) and then a new read (Friedrich Hayek's The Road to Serfdom, the next in Vital Signs' Book It! series). But you can count on there being a few old favorites in between.