Sea of Reads

Peripatetic, itinerant, eclectic musings about books, politics, history, language, culture, and anything else that interests me.

Do You Re-Read Books?

I don’t. I do understand why people re-read favorite books — to revisit much-loved characters and savor a writer’s voice again, to understand the book better, to see things the second or third time around that went unnoticed the first, to gain new insights into the characters and plots. I’ve just always had too many new books I wanted to read and too strong a sense of how impossible it is to ever read them all, to read again a book I already read, no matter how long ago.

I started to get curious about the whole subject of re-reading, and decided to poke around a bit and see what other book people have said about it. First thing I found out is people mostly either love to re-read or hate it. Here’s what came up as the first two hits when I googled “re-reading books”:

  1. Why re-reading is a crime | Books | guardian.co.uk

    Jul 3, 2007 Some people like to boast about going back to favourite books. As far as I’m concerned they should be ashamed of themselves.
  2. The Pleasures of Rereading – Newsweek.com

    Like old friends and favorite haunts, some books reward revisiting. Most of the “joys of rereading” pieces you come across tuck in an obligatory apology

Natalie at Book Line and Sinker has also been reading up about re-reading — spurred to do so by the need to prove that she can, too, stop any time she wants to:

I recently grabbed a my well-read copy of Bill Bryson’s A Walk In the Woods because I was in serious need of a laugh.  Bryson’s writing never fails to make me laugh; his turn of a phrase and sharp wit crack me up.  My husband glanced over to see what I was laughing about and said in an exasperated tone, “You’re reading that book again?”

I shot him a look and continued reading.  But his comment got me thinking about re-reading books.  Now, I’ve seen my hubby re-read a few books in his day, but I take re-reading to a whole new level.  I’ve read all of Bill Bryson’s books at least twice, and a few of them more than five or six times.  I’ve gone through the first three books of Harry Potter series a dozen times easily.  I’ve re-read Megan McCafferty’s Jessica Darling series a bunch of times, too.

I must say, if I were going to re-read any book, it would very likely be the only book by Bill Bryson that I’ve read: A Short History of Nearly Everything. I read it because a friend told me I would love it, and he was right. That book was enthralling. Funny, too. Bryson is seriously hilarious.

Stefanie, at So Many Books, is — like me — not much of a re-reader, but an encounter with Hazlitt has her re-thinking that position:

I had a few minutes before sleep last night to read another essay from Reading In Bed. This one was by Hazlitt, “On Reading Old Books,” and turned out to be mostly about re-reading.

I’m not much of a re-reader. There are certain books I have re-read more than once and look forward to reading again. There are a few books I’ve read only once but know that I will read them again one day. But overall in the whole scheme of my reading, the percentage of books re-read is small and equals one, maybe two books a year out of the 52+ books I read from January through December.

But after reading Hazlitt I got an urge to start re-reading. Wouldn’t it be an interesting reading experiment, and perhaps someone has already done this, to spend an entire year reading nothing but books you’ve read before? Part of me thinks it would be great fun and another part of me thinks it would be dull not having anything uncharted to read. Darn that Hazlitt for even making me think about this!

It’s amazing how many perspectives on re-reading I found when I started looking into this. Here is someone who calls herself “sewicked,” writing at a blog called I Pontificate:

I’m thinking about this because I’ve been in a funk, for quite a while now. It’s been really hard for me to get into a new book, no matter how good. I haven’t wanted to stretch myself to deal with an unfamiliar author or story. There have been a few exceptions but I have been turning to my old favorites a lot lately. Admittedly, that does help with my book bill (a book a day habit is expensive).

[…]

Why do I re-read books? I know how it ends; usually. My memory can be a bit spotty & when you read 300 books a year, more or less, they do blur together. The story isn’t going to change the second time I read it.

A book a day? 300 books a year?

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5 comments on “Do You Re-Read Books?

  1. Pingback: Great Minds… « Sea of Reads

  2. Stefanie
    February 21, 2010

    What an interesting collection of thoughts you’ve put together on the subject of rereading! Has it made you more or less interested in rereading? Or are you of the same mind as before? I’m not going to spend a whole year rereading and I have, sadly, no managed to reread anything yet this year. But it is only the end of February so there is still plenty of time.

  3. Kathy
    February 21, 2010

    Hi, Stefanie! Welcome to Sea of Reads, and thank you for your comment. You have the distinct honor of being the first person who is not a friend or a colleague to comment on this blog!

    To answer your question, I think I’m maybe marginally more interested in re-reading after writing this post, but still more in theory than reality. I definitely see the value and even the pleasure in coming back to a much-loved book after sufficient time has passed that it can feel in some way new, but at the same time, I still cannot bring myself to actually do it when soooooo many books I want to read for the first time are out there, and more coming every day. 🙂

  4. Susan
    March 12, 2010

    Hi Kathy,
    I saw that you had included some of a Verlyn Klinkenborg essay in your ‘On Reading Aloud’ post. I would like to recommend another essay from May 29th, 2009 ‘Some Thoughts on the Pleasures of Being a Re-Reader’.
    Thank you for the pleasures of reading (and, re-reading)
    your blog.
    Susan

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This entry was posted on February 12, 2010 by in Bloggers, Literary, Reading Life.
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