The Case for Re-reading

My nature isn’t inclined toward re-reading books. The primary reason for this is that there are so many books I want to read but haven’t read. Re-reading one book necessarily means not reading one of the literal thousands of books in my “must-read” queue. It is still an occasional struggle for me, but I’ve gradually overcome my resistance to re-reading books, and here are a few reasons why:

~ We grow and mature over time. The most rewarding re-reading I have ever experienced has been in the context of revisiting a book that I first read -or more likely- was assigned in high school. There was such a difference in mentality and experience even between my teenage years and when I became a wife and mother, which in my case was only a few short years later. You don’t really get things such as the sacrificial nature of love, parenthood, and friendship until they put real demands on you. When they do, you can better appreciate the struggles of protagonists in literature.

~ Our knowledge of issues and languages changes over time. Simply by virtue of growing older, which we forget is a literal best-case scenario, our exposure to more ideas, new environments, and even expanded vocabularies makes it easier for us to grasp concepts that were foreign to us when we are very young or have been relatively sheltered. I confess that I have not yet been able to read Moby Dick in its entirety, and don’t know if I ever will, but I know for sure that these sentiments are lost on a high school student:

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul;

Only a world-weary adult begins to touch upon a realization of what it means to experience a damp, drizzly November in one’s soul. This is true for any number of classic books that are most impactful only when we are old enough to *get it*. None of this is to imply that these books should not be read or assigned in school. Many of them should (albeit not Moby Dick!). This is simply a case for re-reading them later rather than writing them off because we weren’t psychically formed enough to appreciate them upon first reading.

~ The opportunity to process and analyze ideas in nonfiction is easier on the second -or third!- reading. Reading through a biased lens is as natural as breathing. After all, each of us is the sum total of our experience, and our experiences often form our thoughts. On more than one occasion, however, I’ve judged a book harshly, only to re-read it and see some merit in it. I’ve also really liked a book at one stage of life, and then wondered what on earth I was thinking after reading in another stage. I once read that nothing helps a person discover their conservative side so quickly as when they become parents, and I think a variation of that theme can apply to any number of perspectives.

Those are just a few of the reasons that I have had to tamp down my impatient quest to check off my literary bucket list. For one thing, it is was never likely that I would finish the list before kicking the bucket. For another, the literary life is about feasting on ideas and digesting the beauty, truth, wisdom, and artistry as communicated through what we read.

As much as it might satisfy me to be able to check off 100 books read by year’s end, and I have always loved a good checklist, that’s not really why I read, nor why I love books.




2 thoughts on “The Case for Re-reading

  1. smkoseki says:

    Another good post; read is several times.

    not yet been able to read Moby Dick

    I found MD to boring but my 7th grader did listened to it TTS this summer when we painted (he’s into ships) and I finally got into it just by chance. Pretty good writing, and a lot of American history I had to look up. Funny you mentioned it.

    I have had to tamp down my impatient quest to check off my literary bucket list.

    I have the opposite problem: I dread starting a new book and like to reread (or relisten) to glean up what I missed before. It takes me a long time to “process” new information into my worldview and check all the details. So I either ditch the book fast (probably about 9/10 I dump after a 10 min skim) or commit and I give them a lot of play, including rereads. And boy did I miss a lot from books I read when young due to the experience thing,

    Liked by 2 people

  2. hearthie says:

    I reread constantly, just for comfort. I am queen of the battered paperback – well, I keep most of those in E form now, but samesame. I don’t even bother to count that as “reading”.

    However, I’ve reread a few books from my youth in the last year, and they have NOT stood the test of time. My worldview has just changed too much – those old protagonists leave me wanting.

    Liked by 1 person

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