Growing up, I devoured books. Not just books, for that matter, but anything readable – stretching from the back of cereal boxes to old cartoons to the list of ingredients on the WC Duck. Anything. Going over to my aunt’s for dinner meant I would sneak away and hide in the bathroom, perusing their frequently updated pile of cartoons. I would stay in there until someone knocked and sighed “are you in there reading again?”.
This is a picture taken over a decade ago, in the midst of the Amazon jungle during the rain season. I did what I’ve always done best; finding a comfortable spot and disappearing in between the covers. The book in the picture is one of my constant rereadables; White Oleander by Janet Fitch.
I can no longer remember the first time I read it, nor where I got my now tattered copy – but I do remember the story by heart; I remember the poetry within the prose, I remember the way the words have an almost hypnotizing quality. I remember forgetting myself. By now, my copy of White Oleander has traveled around the world – quite literally. It was with me throughout high school, it followed me to South America and during my year in Oceania and Asia, it moved around Sweden with me and now it resides on a shelf here in Northern Alberta.
I realize rereading the same book again and again seems horribly dull and like an exercise in futility to some – but I find that a really good read gets more interesting over time. Not only does patterns and detail begin to emerge – the story changes with you. To me, the themes and development in White Oleander are not the same when I read it today as they were when I read it two, four, eight or twelve years ago. The beats are different, the rhythm has changed. What I see is not the same, because I’m not the same.
When I find a passage in any novel that speaks to me, an extraordinarily beautiful sentence, I thought I have to remember – I make a dog ear at the bottom of the page (I know, I know! I’m sorry!). When rereading and coming upon such an ear, it’s always interesting to so whether I remember which part it was, and if I do, whether it still speaks to me the way it used to. Sometimes, it doesn’t – sometimes something completely different catches my eye, and a new dog ear replaces the old.
The story in White Oleander speaks to us of Astrid, an artistic quiet girl with a beautifully unhinged mother, who murders her lover and blames the scorching desert winds of the Santa Anas. We follow her from foster home to foster home, and we grow with her as she discovers herself and her life. It speaks of meaning and beauty and regret, of different kinds of love and ways of life, of what we wish to see when it clashes with what is already there.
The story has always been the same every time I’ve picked it up, yet it is always something new. I will recommend it to anyone.
As you can never step into the same proverbial river twice,
you can never again read the same book.