I love reading books twice. Of course, there’s the joy of finding a minute detail never noticed before or a character flaw that was overlooked the first time. But I think we so often forget that as humans, we are changing—our perspectives, our ideas, and our sense of self are constantly being altered by the world around us—and each time we reread a piece of writing, we are changed by it just as our view of it has changed since the last time we read it. Francine Prose wrote an essay for The Atlantic where she eloquently elaborates on this idea. When we read, she says, “We begin to want information, entertainment, invention, even truth and beauty. We concentrate, we skim, we skip words, put down the book and daydream, start over, and reread. We finish a book and return to it years later to see what we might have missed, or the ways in which time and age have affected our understanding.” Rereading alone offers new insights, but rereading after years allows time to have an effect on the impression the book makes on us.
This past semester, I took a Shakespeare class. And it changed my life.
Okay, maybe that’s being dramatic. And it certainly is a bit cliché—an English major whose life was changed by Shakespeare? How original. But I really did learn a priceless amount of information about how I view the world around me and how words capture human emotions. When the professor announced that he would be teaching a Shakespeare grad class in the fall, the decision seemed to be made for me. Why wouldn’t I want to take a course that interests me, is taught by an engaging professor, and would challenge me intellectually? I was sold.
My high school English teacher—a mentor, friend, and fellow lover of literature—urged me not to take the grad class. She advised, pleaded, begged that I steer clear of another Shakespeare class: “You just took one, and it’s even the same professor!”
I’m taking the Shakespeare class.
Taking another class about the same playwright with the same professor might seem like a waste of time, but I am convinced it will be worth it. I am constantly trying to view the same things in a different light. In Breaking Bad, Jane Margolis has a lengthy set of lines about the significance of the painting “The Last Door” by Georgia O’Keeffe. This quote continually inspires me to read, watch, and listen over and over again:
“It was the same subject, but [the door] was different every time. The light was different, her mood was different. She saw something new every time she painted it…. Well, then why should we do anything more than once? Should I just smoke this one cigarette? Maybe we should only have sex once, if it’s the same thing…. Should we just watch one sunset? Or live just one day? Because it’s new every time. Each time is a different experience…. Sometimes you just get fixated on something, and you might not even get why. You open yourself up and go with the flow, wherever the universe takes you…. Nothing’s perfect. That door was her home and she loved it. To me, that’s about making that feeling last.”
Those who study literature realize the importance, the necessity, of reading twice. Or three times. Or a hundred times. Because on the thirty-fifth time, Jane Eyre is a story about everyone but the character title. Because on the seventy-sixth time, sympathy instead of hatred is felt for Hamlet. And that is because humans change. We are changing, growing, and learning every day. If nothing else, literature helps us realize that we are not stagnant beings. It is changing us, and that change produces new ideas, thoughts, and feelings that alter our perceptions of the next book we choose to read or reread.
Alexander Petri wrote an article for The Washington Post, and in it she states that Shakespeare will never die because we keep rereading his works. So, this semester when I take a second Shakespeare class, I am not simply repeating a course at a different level. I am keeping Shakespeare alive. I am expanding my knowledge and interpretation of myself, of the world, and of history. I am never reading the same thing twice because I am never the same person twice. I won’t let Shakespeare die.