Re-reading

 

by

Rachel Seigel

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.

13 Responses to Re-reading

  1. Kim Mar 27 2013 at 3:49 am #

    I feel the same way about re-reading. I have so many books that I haven’t even read for the first time that it’s hard for me to give up time that I could be using on a new book to re-read something I’ve already read. My memory for books is pretty good, so I can generally remember enough of the plot details and characters that I don’t need to re-read the previous book in a series if the next one has finally come out. But I have a few books that I will read if the mood strikes me, even if I’ve read them multiple times already. The Harry Potter series and Tess of the D’Uberville or anything by Nova Ren Suma. Sometimes I’ll re-read classics that I was forced to read in school (when I didn’t want anything to do with them) because, like you said, now I’d be looking at them through different eyes. I plan to re-read The Great Gatsby before I see the movie.

  2. S.P.Bowers Mar 27 2013 at 6:45 am #

    My memory for books is pretty good too and in general I’m still trying to catch up on all the books I haven’t read yet. But, my books are my friends. And how would a good friend feel if I said, “I can’t hang out with you, I’m too busy meeting new friends”. There are old friends I have to go back and revisit. And like you, I always find something new there.

    • Caitlin Vanasse Mar 27 2013 at 1:31 pm #

      I love your friends analogy. Totally brilliant explanation.

  3. Annie Mar 27 2013 at 9:16 am #

    The Night Circus is a great re-read. the first time your discovering the world and there’s an element of trying to figure out what’s going on. The second time, since you know what’s going on, there’s so much more depth in the characterization and the nuances of what the characters do and say.

    I’ve been a re-reader for decades, in part because I didn’t have access to a lot of new books growing up, and also because I don’t read books for the plot. I read them for the experience of the story and I love going back to those characters and that experience like visiting old friends. There’s always so many new books, there’s less time for re-reading now. But I really do enjoy it.

  4. Jes Mar 27 2013 at 10:26 am #

    I’m the complete opposite – I reread books A LOT, and I tend to see it as a separate experience from reading a new book. It’s the difference between adventure and comfort. A new book has the thrill of the unexplored, but it can also inadvertently keep you up all night reading when you should be getting a modicum of sleep. Opening a book to re-read it (regardless of the genre), is stepping back into a world that you had left to revisit characters and places. Sure, the anticipation is gone (you do know what will happen, after all), but you don’t need to spend every second of your life on roller coasters or jumping out of airplanes. Sometimes curling up with a favorite book is exactly the relaxation you need. Or, at least, that’s how it is for me. 😛

  5. Caitlin Vanasse Mar 27 2013 at 1:37 pm #

    I agree with pretty much everyone above in some capacity or other. I have been (unsuccessfully) trying to whittle my to-read list down significantly for the past two years which means severely limiting my re-reading but sometimes a memory of a moment or scene seizes you and doesn’t let go until you experience it again.

    I also find merit in consuming a story in new and different media or with comments from a friend. I’m part of a book club that involves heavily annotating books and passing them around. Some of these books have been re-reads and it’s interesting to see things alongside the comments of friends. I also have recently become obsessed with The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (if you have not sampled this Youtube vlog adaptation of Pride and Prejudice go. Go now.) and one thing that endears me to it is the way the thoughtful re-telling and the format helps me to come to a new understanding of the book itself.

  6. Katlin Collins Mar 27 2013 at 5:42 pm #

    I agree. Re-reading is a powerful thing that let you look into a different perspective and find more about a character you didn’t realize before. I could ramble on about more things about re-reading, but I believe everyone above me covered a lot of the bases.

  7. Amy Jane Mar 27 2013 at 7:27 pm #

    I always want to hang onto (or buy) a book I adore.

    There’s a comment in one of the Inkheart books about the reason books get fatter as/after you read them is that you’re cramming your memories between the pages.

    If I only read for plot, I kinda get the not re-reading. Is like collecting? And we all like to add to our collections.

    My reading is for, um, I need a word… The experience?
    I love the perfect turn of phrase (that I might quote when my own words don’t suffice) or the perfectly set-up climax (that might mean nothing to someone who hasn’t read up to that point, but I can re-enter into just by opening the book).

    The trouble is I don’t reread as much as I’d choose to. I feel impelled to whittle down that multiplying pile.

    The result is that my most-repeated “reads” are the 3-5 recorded books I own. Thankfully they’re stories I love (The Perilous Gard– Better every time, Jane Eyre– where I know which spots I want to skip, and Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit– which, having become more culturally ubiquitous, have made me rather “cool” for being able to quote them or use them as story-structure examples).

    I am currently on my third re-read this year. I connect it with a sort of personal recharging: I am stretching myself in new ways, both socially and professionally, so it’s soothing to read something familiar.

  8. Alexa Y. Mar 28 2013 at 1:11 pm #

    I’m starting to realize the value of reading a book AGAIN, as opposed to reading books for the first time. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a new book, of course, as it is how we discover the new things that we love and series to fall for and characters to swoon about. BUT there’s something particularly special in revisiting a series or a book that you loved, and you pretty much nailed what it is on the head with your post. I’m particularly enamored of reading books I’ve loved just to experience the wonderful stories all over again!

  9. kristin Mar 28 2013 at 1:17 pm #

    One of my favorite things is in fact to read a book again; this is one of the reasons why I never give away copies of books I don’t have more than one of because I’ve been known to read a book again twice, three times and more. While there’s always the intrigue of being introduced to a world for the first time, there is nothing like the warm familiarity of returning to one that just wraps itself around you. HP, for example.

    And, like you said, there are spectrums of perspective from reading the same book at different points in your life. It’s a beautiful thing.

  10. Anna J. Boll Mar 31 2013 at 10:00 am #

    Currently rereading Jandy Nelson’s , THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE, and love being swept away by the emotional story and lyrical writing. I always discover new crafty nuggets of wonderfulness when I reread authors I respect.

  11. Alexandra Mar 31 2013 at 7:16 pm #

    Oh, I really, really love your comment that “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”. So beautifully put! I re-read my books all the time, but there’s a handful that particularly stand out to me – there’s this book called “Guitar highway rose” by Aussie author Brigid Lowry that I first read when I was fifteen, same age as the heroine, and then read again earlier this year, at 22, and it was so interesting having that slightly different persepective that seven years brings, so relating to the heroine (and her choices) in a slightly different way. Ditto Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible which I first read aged 12 – my perspective and the things that I’ve noticed in the text have changed so much in the ensuing decade, and it’s so cool being able to track that change with the book as a reference point.

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