Monday, October 20, 2008

The Best Book I Want To Re-read Over And Over Again.


October Is Book Month Continues!

Here's the thought I had the other day: We do so many things over and over in our lives. Which is really crazy, given how much there is to see and do and taste and touch and try.

On my iPod, for example, I have 9,115 songs. But I've played the song Crimson & Clover by Tommy James and The Shondells, 40 times since I downloaded it. With 9,115 songs to choose from, I go back all the time to Crimson & Clover.

Or reruns. We have a DVR, and I've many times, laying in bed at night or having a rare moment to watch TV on a weekend afternoon, opted to watch a rerun of The Critic or King of Queens instead of, say, the new episodes of House that I taped, or continue the third season of Lost or some unwatched Battlestar episodes.

There's a whole aisle of cereal and yet most of the time I eat Peanut Butter Cap'n Crunch.

Now, some things have to be repeated; take the book So Big by Elmo. I would not ordinarily opt to have read So Big approximately 164 times so far, but So Big is a favorite of Mr F and Mr Bunches, who eagerly await [POP-UP SPOILER ALERT!] Elmo's playing hide and seek, then Elmo waving bye-bye, and then Elmo being so big and popping up. Seriously -- if I pause before turning that page the boys will start to rumble in anticipation.

But for the most part, things are repeated over and over without me having much of a reason for doing so, beyond laziness or the fact that I really liked something, and it's not a problem until you realize it' s a problem, and the problem with repeating things like I do is demonstrated to me when I am confronted with how much there is to do.

I think, for example, that San Francisco (where I've been twice) is a really neat city and I'd like to see it again. But then I remember that I've never seen New Orleans, Seattle, London, Beijing, or Rio de Janeiro, and how can I repeat cities when there's so much of the world to see?

I listen to On the Radio by Regina Spektor twice on the way into work, heedless of the fact that I've got 120 hours of music on my iPod to listen to -- I listen to 1/2 hour to an hour of music per day, so I could go at least a third of a year before repeating a song.

I used to re-watch movies, and I would really like to re-watch Superbad because it was hilarious, but I've got a stack of 20 DVDs like The Prestige and Children of Men waiting to be watched and more movies keep getting made, so how can I justify re-watching a movie.

And that's all before I walk into a bookstore and realize that there are dozens, probably hundreds of books that I want to read... and that I will never read even if I don't ever repeat books, which I don't do anymore because as much as I love some books, there are too many great books out there waiting for me to read them so I can't just go back and re-read my favorites willy-nilly because I'm losing precious time that could be spent reading new books.

Here's what I then began considering: How long could I go without EVER repeating anything ever? Let's assume I make certain concessions, like I will go to work everyday (because I need a job) and I will not have to keep buying new outfits of clothing (because I'm not independently wealthy) and I still will brush my teeth and shower (because otherwise, gross). So it's limited, then, to this: How long can I go without ever repeating a kind of food, a kind of drink, a song, a book, a movie, or a TV show?

Think about that for a second, and then think about this: Never repeat. Yesterday morning I had a bowl of "Cinnamon Toast Crunch" and two slices of toast. If I was to never repeat, I would never have toast again. I had a burger for dinner last night. Not repeating means no more burgers. I watched "Family Guy" with Sweetie and The Boy. That would be it for my lifetime: no more "Family Guy."

No reruns. Read a given newspaper only once. Never find out what happened in that Funky Winkerbean storyline because I only get to read Funky Winkerbean one more time in my life. Forget following Lost -- it's one episode and out. One more football game in my lifetime, one more baseball game, only one of each sporting event. I read Entertainment Weekly this weekend; now it's off the list, forever.

How long do you think you could do that? And would you want to? Would I want to? When I first thought of it, I thought that'd be kind of cool. Then I thought man, I would NEVER want to try that. Then I thought it might be kind of cool, again, after all, because of the fact that I didn't want to do it -- the same impulse that used to lead me to include Bascom Hill in my jogging route and to try skydiving.

In the midst of thinking all of that yesterday, I began re-watching an old episode of Arrested Development, finding new jokes and humor in it -- then I switched that off and instead watched the end of the Rays-Red Sox game, which was something I'd never seen before.

Is it a waste if we re-read a book, re-watch a TV show? Is it a waste if we revisit something we love -- go back to the zoo where I go at least once a year, if not more often, and wander around and look at the same animals and same exhibits that are there every year -- instead of doing something new that we may or may not like? Would a life spent eating Big Macs every single day of your life be a waste, if you really loved Big Macs?

And does your answer to those questions change if the thing you're repeating is something you love? If you don't like Big Macs or the zoo or Arrested Development, what if you're going back to see Stomp again or listening to Meatloaf's 2 out of 3 Ain't Bad a lot -- is that good?

I'm thinking about that because lately I've been wanting to re-read Catch-22, a book I first read my senior year in high school, and which I've since re-read twice -- about once every six years, on average-- and which pops into my head at weird moments (the most recent weird head-popping Catch-22 moment being last week when I recalled Catch-22 while thinking about John Irving.)

Catch-22 is worth re-reading, if any book is. It's worth re-reading because it's big and sprawling and full of characters that are so memorable I can recall details about them even now, when I haven't read the book in probably 8 or 10 years -- details like the fact that Orr, Yossarian's tentmate, was always taking apart and putting back together the little apparatus in the tent, and that he stuffed something (I can't remember what) into his cheeks to make himself apple-cheeked. Details like the chocolate-covered cotton Milo tries to get Yossarian to eat while the Chaplain kind of sees them and wondered if he had a vision.

Catch-22 is worth re-reading, if any book is, too, because of the way the story unfolds; it was said, when I first read it, that it unfolds out of chronological order, like Billy Pilgrim's story did, but that's not quite true. It proceeds mostly chronologically, with flashbacks and memories at times and a little disorienting-via-story, but despite that, it feels as though it did not proceed chronologically; it feels out-of-order, the way our understanding of a friend's life feels out of order -- which is true, when you think about it: We understand our friend's, and even our spouse's lives, out-of-order.

When you first meet your spouse or friend, it's generally not at the very beginning of their life; nobody meets at birth. Instead, you meet them when you have already lived a lot. From then on, the two of you proceed on mostly-parallel tracks while you also learn about their background -- but not entirely parallel tracks, because one of you may go watch the Chicago Marathon while the other stays at home, or one of you might go visit family on the West Coast while the other goes to school. So you find out about those things after the fact, as you go back to living parallel lives -- always filling in your knowledge of their past while sharing their present.

That's the way Catch-22 unfolds: you jump in and meet the characters right away, and learn about them, while experiencing some of what they go through directly (when Yossarian crawls back to the cockpit and makes McWatt turn around) and some of which we experience only in their memories, as the characters relive it, like Yossarian's discovery of Snowden's secret, a secret so remarkable that when I was watching, with Sweetie, a movie not so long ago, I suspected that the movie was going to copy Snowden's secret and I got upset because that was such a standalone moment in literature that it should never be swiped for some dumb movie. (In the end, it didn't, but the movie was still wrecked for me.)

Catch-22 is worth re-reading, if any book is, because of those indelible images and arguments and catchphrases that Heller gives us, the questions it raises. Can America survive as long as a frog? Is a life that seems longer really worth living? Would we all be better or worse if instead of feeling pain we had a series of neon tubes sticking out of our heads to alert us when things went wrong? If everyone felt one way, would we really be a damn fool to feel any other way?

Catch-22 is worth re-reading, if any book is, because even though every character, every scene, every word in it is unforgettable, sometimes I want to be reminded of what it is I never can forget anyway. If I decide to try the Never Repeating Life, I will miss "Calvin & Hobbes" and sausage pizza and The Office, but I will miss more the idea that I can't go back and re-read Catch-22, The Best Book I Want To Re-read Over And Over Again.




October is Book Month

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1 comment:

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