When I see a road for the very first time, I feel a little thrill of discovery. My home street, the roads to work, to the store; these are boring. But what about roads that are only a little familiar? Places I’ve seen before… somewhere?
I used to take the train to work, a ride of two hours–it was less sweaty than the same trip on a bike, but not any shorter. I knew every mile of track, every foot of road and sidewalk, where to find restrooms and newsstands in four familiar train platforms. But once in a while, I’d ride it anyway, usually going home from work. I’d take back ways across suburbs and parks, far away from the busy towns with train stations.
I did this once every few months. The vaguely familiar gets filed in between the thrilling and the dull, filed under “meditative”.
Books are like that, too. Re-discovering them for the second time ensures a good book, but re-reading them for the fifth or tenth time, finding every-deeper and insignificant subtleties? No, thank you. But that book we read once ten years ago? We meet characters we’ve forgotten, or attach importance to different events.
Memory fails us, and time passes. Like walking along a particularly scenic rural path we’re happy to have found a second time, we re-read favorite books for the joy of seeing beautiful language: a particularly moving paragraph, an insightful, relevant physical description. Perhaps we’ll find subtle satire we missed (or maybe we caught it before, we just forgot we ever remembered having read it). So we read, and we resolve: This time, I’m paying better attention. This time, I will remember this beautiful thing.
Note: This essay is (sort of) continued thematically in Riding a New Road Again.
Neil Fein is a freelance editor who specializes in novels. If you’ve written a manuscript or are getting close to finishing, you can get in touch with him here, and even ask for a free sample edit. He rides his bicycle as much as he can, and he paints when he damn well feels like it. He also plays acoustic guitar in the bands Baroque & Hungry, and The Trouvères.