Goodness, it’s been a hot minute since I’ve lifted weights. I’ve been doing Insanity 4-5 times a week and running 9 miles every Sunday, so I’m moving and challenging my body, but now that I’m no longer working on campus it’s hard to get to the Rec Center consistently. I’ve made a point to go a couple times over the last week and it has felt so good to remind my body what it’s like to pick up the heavy stuff. Also, my knee feels better when running! Hashtag BONUS.
Perhaps the saddest thing about not lifting weights is that I have no opportunity for In-Between Thoughts. I know, you’ve been devastated. There is just no In-Between with Insanity or running. That was a delightful additional return this week. So onto the thoughts…
This weekend I listened to a podcast that talked about the difference between people who prefer to order the same thing at restaurants and people who prefer to order new things. People who prefer to order familiar dishes tend to value and enjoy anticipation and experience. It’s easier to anticipate something concretely known, and ordering something they already know they enjoy sets them up to have a good experience (and allows them to be confident they will have a good experience). People who prefer to order new dishes, by comparison, tend to value making new memories. It’s really, really hard to remember the 8th time you’ve eaten Palak Paneer at your favorite Indian restaurant versus the 11th time. The memories blend together precisely because of the sameness. Ordering something new enables longer-term memory coding and recall.
For the record, I love both, but hearing about this distinction did make me want to make sure to order something new for special occasion meals so as to better remember that particular celebratory occasion. But this post isn’t about food (even though food was all I could think about when doing my dumbbell rows…)
The first thought that sprung to my mind was how applicable this framework is to reading. I love reading new books and I love rereading books. I think great books deserve rereading and that rereading is necessary for fully understanding any text.
I also love love love reading new books! Reading new things is vital to personal growth. I’ve gravitated towards new reading lately, in part because of where I am in my personal development at the moment. The way I see the world has changed quite a bit over the last few years. I no longer prefer to interpret everything primarily with a spiritual lens. I think the spiritual lens is a way to interpret the world (and can be a valid one), but lately I’ve been much more interested in learning about what we know about how the world and what we know about the way our brains work, to understand why we interpret the world the way we do (spiritually or otherwise). That realm of knowledge is very new to me, so as a result I’ve been reading mostly new-to-me books and articles.
As I was lifting (sweating my way through super setting lateral raises and back extensions, yeesh), I realized that the familiar books I used to read are no longer so familiar. I am not the same person I was when I experienced them years ago. I see the world differently. I see myself differently. All that makes me read differently. The things that used to resonate deeply, don’t anymore. Or they resonate for different reasons. The things I used to dismiss as irrelevant now have vital importance. In general, I am looking for different things in these familiar texts and that makes my rereadings perhaps more akin to new readings than rereadings.
This is both exhilarating and sad. I mourn the loss of the specific experience I used to get from rereading those texts as my prior self. Those experiences, those feelings, were good. They were worth sacrificing new readings for. They helped form the person I am today, and I’m grateful for that.
On the flip side, I also find the new unfamiliarity thrilling. In some ways, I don’t recognize these “familiar” texts. The experience I have with them is new and I don’t know what to expect or anticipate. The works become part of the way I see the world in a new way. (And yes, this tends to overwrite the memories I have of my initial readings and early rereads, but I guess that’s just part of a life lived in reading and music.)
And if I’m being honest (and not too self-congratulating), I think this way of engaging with familiar texts is actually an important way to read. We shouldn’t be the same person we were when we first encountered a text. We should always be bringing new memories, new failures, new accomplishments, new hurts, new insights, bigger hearts to each reread. Otherwise, are we really living?
Even more importantly, the reading of a text changes us, and that means when we return even to that text that we have been changed by the first reading. That text has made us more knowledgeable, differently opinionated, somehow new in ourselves. I think that’s what I love most about reading — the constant feeding of our growing selves — and I love that I can find that in both new readings or rereadings.