I wish I’d saved the blog post. I should have saved the blog post. But I didn’t. So this blog post is a bit hazy on the exact details. Dear blogger: whoever/wherever you are, thanks for inspiring me, and my apologies for not naming you and your blog, as my source.
These apologies are the preamble to my reaction about an obsessive reader. The blogger cheerfully told his readers that he had read the play Hamlet and one of P G Wodehouse’s Jeeves novels (and there are fourteen of them, so I’m excused on fudging the exact title) OVER 100 TIMES. And this, mark you, over a period of a few years, when he was a student. It sounded as if the blogger was in his mid-20s’. Apparently he was studying Hamlet for academic reasons, but Jeeves? Perhaps after all the dramatic Scandinavian crime and gloom he needed a bit of a respite? What could be a better tonic that P G Wodehouse’s imperturbable, unflappable butler, the immortal Jeeves? I’m a Jeeves fan myself, so I can understand his affection for the man.
But the point is: imagine reading the same work – makes no maybe what it is: a play, a novel, an essay – over one hundred times! I’m sure we all have a much-loved book that we’ve read, and re-read many times. For example, I have re-read one of my all-time favourites, The Last Samurai by Helen de Witt at least four or five times. It’s a wonderful story, and a great read. But one hundred times? No.
The blogger revealed that re-reading Hamlet so frequently made him aware of the language, the subtleties, the nuances; the phrase ‘close reading’ which is much in vogue, covers this approach. I don’t know that the Jeeves novels offer the same depth. PG was a master of the neat phrase, the bon mot, dialogue that required no frills or trimmings to drive the story forward and make his characters immortal. I wish I could write dialogue the way PG did! Mind you, Wodehouse lived into his early 90s and was a prolific writer, almost to the end, so there’s hope yet.
His output was prodigious. Encyclopaedia Brittanica tells us: He wrote more than 90 books and more than 20 film scripts and collaborated on more than 30 plays and musical comedies.
I wonder if any of my readers have obsessively read one of their favourites over and over again? If so: do tell!