During my early twenties I hit my first major book buying/reading binge. I’d always read lots, but from a fairly limited range – Agatha Christie, Tolkien and the Beats, a somewhat odd combination! A gift of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast books for my 19th birthday were eye-opening but I often didn’t have the courage to step outside the box and read more widely.

But when I hit 20 or so, I met a new group of friends who had been to university and told me that should read whatever I wanted! This coincided with my my discovery of feminism and women writers generally and so I started to read voraciously – Virginia Woolf, Colette, the Brontes, George Eliot, Sylvia Plath, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Jean Cocteau, Camus – and many of their books that I bought at the time are still on my shelves, having travelled with me for more years than I would care to acknowledge.

However, I am left with a dilemma! I haven’t actually read a lot of these books for over 20 years and would love to re-read – but, oh! the fear of going back to a much-loved book and discovering that it isn’t actually as good as I thought it was/remembered it! Luckily I have returned to Colette and found her not only as good, but much improved as if my increasing age(!) and experience have made me read her differently. I suppose this is the crux of the matter – as we grow older and have more life experiences to draw on, our perceptions change and our worldview is different.


So – re-reading. One of the books I loved in my early twenties splurge was “If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller” by Italo Calvino. It was recommended by a friend of a friend because I “like books about books”! I remember reading and loving it, totally knocked out by the concept. Truth be told, I was absolutely obsessed with Calvino and his work. I devoured all his books and still have them on my shelves.

Wikipedia describes it thus:

“The narrative is about a reader trying to read a book called If on a winter’s night a traveler. Every odd-numbered chapter is in the second person, and tells the reader what he is doing in preparation for reading the next chapter. The even-numbered chapters are all single chapters from whichever book the reader is trying to read.”

It was the concept of several books within books that fascinated me – which story was the real story, where was the narrator taking us, and were we in fact part of the book. The blurring of the lines between author and reader were intriguing and I remember feeling that this book was like no other I had read. It was the first Calvino I read and I always thought of it as the best.

But the great risk on re-reading will be if I find it is not as wonderful as I remember it. That’s the dilemma – do I live with that memory or take the giant leap of a re-read after 30 years and ruin my feelings for the book?