My son Ben, aged nine, found his perfect book and began to read it continuously. He read it ten consecutive times before he stopped telling me the score. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl was perfect, so why read anything else? Now Max, at seven, feels similarly about the Tashi books.
At their age I was more of literary glutton than connoisseur, but I did reread The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett many times. And about six years ago I read my way through Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust; I read as slowly as I could, and when I closed volume 12, all I wanted to do was start again.
Why are some books so compelling that they become a revolving read? And is there any web content with the same force?
It's not just the book, it's the reader. These are all terrific books, no question. But for certain readers at certain times, they are more: they are an extension of the psyche.
Ben was Zorro but he was also Charlie, a boy of humble origins who went on a quest, trounced his enemies and saved his family. Charlie was his avatar. And Max is just like Tashi, a teller of tales that have his friends agog, and are recounted with amazement by their parents. Tashi overcomes villains by thinking fast and moving fast. Max is committed to the irresistible, ingenious, inventive, pure-of-heart Tashi.
Mary Lennox, heroine of The Secret Garden, acted out my destiny as bossy brat and secret gardener. Even now a forest is growing on my roof, hidden from street view, with seven trees as tall as myself. And my back porch houses an impossible vege garden; last year I had to trim the tomatoes with hedge shears.
Charming, neurotic Proust acts on me as a kind of drug. I read a few lines, and drift into a daydream. When 'reading' Proust, I spend more time meditating on my own parallel internal experience than actually looking at the words.
Online, most of us don't want a compelling read: we want information fast, or we want to get a job done, fast. But some online content does grab people so they revisit again and again.
Games, for instance. And it strikes me that the rare revolving reads involve us in exactly the same way as games do. Reading is never passive, but those rare revolving reads get us actively working, choosing, deciding, comparing, planning, dreaming, and thinking our own thoughts. Like a game does.
The 2nd Big, Big Book of Tashi. Anna Fienberg, Barbara Fienberg and Kim Gamble. Allen & Unwin.