When I was in University and stumbling through my various English Literature courses for my degree, I remember a professor telling me that I would end up reading each book on the list approximately three times. A first-time superficial reading, a second time for deeper meaning, and a third for specific details- primarily those which you need for your exam or your essay. I admit- I was skeptical about this- especially when I was facing a 500+ page tome from one of the 19th century masters who never omitted a detail.
Amazingly, this wasn’t far from the truth. I didn’t exactly read Middlemarch cover-to-cover three times, but I did end up combing through it multiple times and re-reading some parts several times by the time I was through with it. There were also certain books (Color Purple anyone?) that seemed to be favourites of many of my teachers/professors, and between 9th grade and University Graduation, I ended up having to read the book a half dozen times.
My pleasure reading, however, has been a completely different story. I have an excellent memory for books, and I retain much of the plot of what I’ve read. I often need only re-read the first few pages before the entire story comes flooding back and it feels like I literally just finished reading it.
Then there is the allure of shiny new books. On the Edelweiss Website, the filter for Children’s/Young Adult novels brought up over 5000 records of recently or soon-to-be published titles, and as someone who loves to read, and knows roughly how many books I can finish in a year, giving up one of these new releases in favour of a book I’ve already read is difficult. My Kindle alone has enough material on it to keep me busy for a couple of years, and my physical to-be-read pile is overflowing!
That being said, there are a few exceptions to my never re-read rule. A few cherished favourites such as A Little Princess, The Phantom Tollbooth, and The Velveteen Rabbit, which I re-visit every few years or so because they have meaning to me. Each time I do, I confess, I find myself considering them in a way I hadn’t before. Did I feel as compelled to shake Lizzy Bennett for being so foolish and stubborn the first time I read Pride and Prejudice as I did the last time? Probably not, and this has led me to something of an epiphany- while I can never recapture the surprise and anticipation that a first reading brings, not focusing on what’s going to happen next allows me to pick up on nuances I may not have noticed, and to consider aspects of the characters I hadn’t before. Prior to my re-reading of Pride and Prejudice last spring, the last time I’d read it was approximately a decade before- and I am definitely not looking at it with the same eyes I did back then. Every time you re-read a book (even if it’s the next day) you bring to it new experiences, new ideas, and new perspectives, and that can result in a much different reading than the previous one.
I think I will always feel compelled to read the newest and greatest- the exciting debut, the book that everybody is talking about, or the conclusion to a series I’ve been faithfully following- but- I have also learned that it is important and valuable to make the time to occasionally revisit a book that made an impact on you, and to think about something old in a completely new way.
Rachel Seigel is the K-12 buyer at wholesaler S&B Books in Mississauga, Ontario. She also maintains a personal blog at http://readingtimbits.blogspot.com and can be found on Twitter as @rachelnseigel.