Friday, June 11, 2010

Emotional Synergy

I've written recently about keepers and about rereading.  Heraclitus (and Siddhartha) remarked that you can't go in the same river twice.  Without getting into elaborate angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin type arguments what what constitutes a river, I agree with the basic principle that you can't do the same thing in precisely the same way and get the same experience.  More to the point, you can't read the same book twice.  Having read it once, even decades earlier, even if you've completely forgotten it -- it's not the same book.

Oh, the book hasn't changed, but the reading of it has.  Who you are has changed, so the way you read it is different.  You might focus on different elements, different passages, you might read faster or slower, you might like characters in a new way while disliking others you'd previously not cared about.

And your emotional response to a book may have changed.

I'm a big believer in each of us being resonant to different things.  Bluntly, I believe in psychology; what has happened to us in our past (including five minutes ago) shapes the way we move through the present.  Something makes us cry because of its power to evoke emotion; we grant that power -- subconsciously at least -- because of that swirling mix of experiences and attitudes we have woven into our characters, into our souls.

Reading, like listening to music, can evoke emotions.  At a bare minimum, it makes us smile with the reflected glow of a solid HEA.  At its most potent, reading can rock our foundations, change our lives, trigger a personal epiphany, help us heal.  Well -- maybe it's not done any of those things for you, but it has for me.

Which is why rereading keeper books is such a risky proposition.  Will a book that moved me 20 years ago -- when I was single, underemployed but overeducated, and only just starting to find my place in the world (what can I say? I was a late bloomer) and so was very receptive to emotionally powerful books -- still move me today?  Or will the emotional synergy be missing?

I'm not keeping score, but so far most of the keepers I've reread have held up.  I'm clearly not the same person I was back then, but in the best books there's something that I can still relate to.  There may not be the same degree of emotional synergy, but it's still there.  I may not be having the same overwhelming experiences, but then so much about my life now is improved.  Maybe I don't need reading to do the same things.

What books affected you the most?  Do they hold up over time?

Upon reading this, my husband suggested I link to some books I've reread to see if they still have emotional resonance:  The Lonely Shore by Anne Weale; Fate is Remarkable by Betty Neels (here's a link to my Fate is Remarkable fan fiction over at The Uncrushable Jersey Dress); Island Nights by Glenda Sanders, These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer; and  To Have and To Hold by Patricia GaffneyAnd for comic relief, a dud: Swift Water by Emilie Loring


  1. Hi
    Very interesting post. I re-read often. My husband teases me about it, but I reply--'I am visiting old friends'. And that's what my keepers are--comfort reads, old friends that I want to encounter again.
    And, being very short on space, I go through my keepers every 5 years or so and weed. Why? Because I know my tastes have changed and there are a number of books that I held onto for years, that 'made the cut' several times, but which finally failed to make the grade.
    But the ones that survive the weeding, time after time, all have one thing in common--they make me feel good. I do the happy sigh when I pick them up and the happy sigh when I finish them. And some of these books date to my(far distant) childhood and some are recent additions. It doesn't matter as long as they deliver the goods.

  2. bafriva -- This is fascinating to me. I don't reread many of my keepers that often. I mean to, but unless a specific one is calling me (and I think I've been hearing Wulfric, Duke of Bedwyn, murmuring to me recently...), I sleep better knowing I've got them in reserve.

    A lot of my keepers are still in my collection because I recall loving them when I first read them. I like your system of retesting them over time and ditching the ones past their "read-by date."


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