Changing My Mind was structured like a sandwich. It began and ended with academic essays related to books and authors I haven’t read. So through the first 90 or so pages I wondered whether it was worth persevering. Fortunately I stayed with the book and came across the more appealing sandwich filling.
The “filling” that made the book worthwhile includes essays on:
Human nature and identity.
Personal memories of childhood, family and in particular of Smith’s late father, to whom the book is dedicated.
Then came another academic essay to enclose the sandwich
In the academic essays, the idea of “rereading” comes up several times, and those references seem to show an aspect of Smith’s reading practice, and her literary interests, that differ greatly from my own.
I am not a rereader. I rarely read novels twice, and when I have it has been many years later when I’d forgotten enough of the story for it to be like reading the book for the first time. The only time I recall finishing a novel and then immediately restarting it was almost 40 years ago with Frank Herbert’s Dune.
When I re-read Dune, it wasn’t because I needed to dig deeper into its wordplay or its philosophy of life or to admire the author’s skill, it was because I loved the story and the characters.
When rereading is mentioned in Smith’s essays I think it relates to more “literary” or “writerly” issues, and while those things don’t really motivate my reading of fiction I can understand the idea behind them. After recently finishing The Satanic Verses I thought I’d probably get more out of the book if I read it again; a second reading would build upon the first and maybe some of the puzzling aspects (of which there were many) would become clearer.
If there wasn’t so much else to read it might have been something to consider. But there are far too many other books around that I find much more appealing. And the need to understand The Satanic Verses doesn’t come high enough in my life’s priorities to want to spend another couple of weeks reading through it again.
When I read fiction I am more interested in plot and character than in philosophy or gaining insight into the meaning of life – for that I’ll stick with the Bible: a book where continued rereading is more than justified.