The issue is more than just savoring literary experience. I am suggesting that there is more than meets the eye in reading, literally. If we attend to the time of reading, we might notice that our relationship to a literary work changes over time. One consequence is that we begin to be charitable to "bad" readers, whether they are our students, our acquaintances, or our former selves. Most important, though, we learn to drop the idea that we can neatly distinguish good from bad reading because we realize that, at some time in the past, we were not up to reading a particular work. Or perhaps we see that while we missed a great deal, we did respond strongly to parts of the work. It begins to make sense, then, to track our career with a certain work, in order to open it up as literature.
Keats gave us a key insight into reading in his poem "On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer," about reading the English poet and dramatist George Chapman's translation of Homer's epics. As often as he had read Homer, Keats wrote, "Yet did I never breathe its pure serene/Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold."
I have increasingly come to believe that the key to reading is rereading. Paradoxically, rereading a literary work is not a quick business, but usually slower than the first time round. We learn that the first time we read too fast, and in a complicated feedback mechanism what was deeply buried in the text can emerge.
To read this piece (slowly and more than once) in its entirety, click here.