My husband has a pretty extensive book collection that covers many genres, from science fiction and historical biographies, to memoirs and non-fiction (especially books that expose the truth about people and urban legends). The most amazing thing to me is that he has read and re-read these same books over and over again. Yes, he is always adding to his collection (he always asks for books for his birthday and Christmas), but often when he is reading before bed, it is some thumbed-through, worn-out volume that has been in his collection for many years and which he has already read cover-to-cover at least ten times.
I, on the other hand, can probably count on that same hand the number of books that I have read over and over again. Perhaps it is because the secret is gone, the surprise of what lies in the pages; it would be like re-wrapping your Christmas presents and opening them again a few days later. Sometimes, though, there are those individuals and stories that are so worth the re-immersion. The familiarity is more like a favorite family story that you love to hear or it could be that you imagine yourself in the story because of your affinity with the characters themselves.
At the summit of my Many Times Read list is Jane Austen’s renowned creation Pride and Prejudice. I discovered the story many years ago when every teen’s favorite (ha ha) Sunday evening program, Masterpiece Theater, showed an adaptation of the book. It was a little hard to get all of the subtleties and underlying themes from a first viewing, so my mother suggested that I read the leather-bound copy that I had no idea that we owned. Despite liking it, the novel went back on the shelf for a number of years before I read it again. When I was working at a bookstore in high school and college, I purchased my own paperback copies of Jane Austen’s various works.
One reason I like this story is that it is so real. You can easily understand the relationships, the emotions, the problems, the struggles. Even though it was written about early 1800s England, it still makes sense today. To me, so many books that are considered to be classic romances are boring and confusing, especially those from the early twentieth century. The use of certain phrases that, I am sure, have a completely different meaning these days only frustrates me. For example, the term “making love:” it could mean anything from flirting to courting to sex. If I don’t understand the euphemisms of the day, then how can I hope to understand the love, despair and forgiveness that follow?
Of course, the heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, is key to the reason the story is still meaningful today. She is vibrant and witty and natural. She is sharp, makes mistakes in judgment and frustrates her mother. Mr. Darcy, the haughty, reserved, handsome hero-to-be, needs the understanding and love of a good woman, one who can pierce his hard outer shell of propriety. These people can (and do) easily find a place in today’s contemporary fiction.
So if this story is also a favorite of yours, tell me which you prefer – book, Jennifer Ehle/Colin Firth TV adaptation or the recent movie with Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen? Perhaps it is the film from the 1940s starring Greer Garson and Sir Lawrence Olivier or the Indian version, Bride and Prejudice? I look forward to your responses!