On Re-Reading

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)

As Juan Vidal wrote for National Public Radio:

The best books are the ones that open further as time passes. But remember, it’s not because they changed. Every letter and punctuation mark is exactly where it always has been, and where it will remain forever. It’s you who are different; it’s you who’s been affected by the depth of your experience. And it’s you that has to grow and read and reread in order to better understand your friends.

I have just finished re-reading Aldous Huxley’s first novel, Crome Yellow, written in 1921 at the beginning of his career. In 1975, I was abashed by the romantic failures of Dennis Stone, the book’s narrator, with whom I identified because of my own experiences at that time. Now I see that Huxley not only was living through his own callow youth, but very neatly encapsulated for all time that obsessiveness with our own tactical failures can result in even more serious strategic failures in this life. Dennis fails with Anne Winbush, but his consciousness of failure prevents him from seeing Mary Bracegirdle, who is interested in him.

There are some books I re-read on a regular basis. Most notably: Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. I am now in my third reading of the seven-volume novel, and ready to start re-reading the third volume, The Guermantes Way. Then there are works like The Iliad and The Odyssey, Don Quixote, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Balzac’s Comédie Humaine, and any number of great books that I want to re-investigate because I have changed. To re-read is to measure that change.

When I was in my thirties, I loved Aldous Huxley and read many of his works. Now I think I’m about to check out his novels, stories, and essays again. The years have sped on, and we are all a work in progress.