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The Joys of Rereading

October 28, 2014


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This year as been a rereading renaissance for me. Before I began blogging, I reread frequently, but with blogging I became exposed to so many books and authors that the sheer variety on display tempted me to always be exploring something new. I didn’t make an intentional decision to stop rereading in order to have more time for first reads, but that’s ultimately what happened. I reread at most 10-20 books a year, which is not even 10% of my average annual reading total. I also started feeling funny about rereading fairly new books, as if I should only reread books every five years or so. And then my arthritis made itself known, and I’ve spent the past two years more out of the book blogosphere than within it. Left to myself, I find I reread more and more frequently these days, even books that I might have only read for the first time in the past year or so.

And it’s been such a delight! I love how I can relax while rereading a book; I already know what will happen, that the quality is consistent throughout, which characters I can become most attached to. I wouldn’t give up my tabula rasa first reading for anything (hence my strong feelings about ‘spoilers’ and the need to label them as such), with the book unfolding just as the author intended, whether full of surprises or fulfilling all of its foreshadowing, but I find the subsequent rereads sweeter or more bittersweet, as the case might be. I can slow down, take the time to notice all of the little details I might have missed in my first, plot-motivated reading. Or I can savour the development of a beloved character, knowing how everything will turn out. Or I can be challenged all over again by an author with a determined message or oblique style, and get even more out of the book.

Rereading reminds me of the ultimate magic of the reading act: while the book is the author’s own, the reading of it is a dance between myself and the author. And we won’t dance precisely the same way twice; while the book stays the same, I have not. I like being reminded of that, if at times it’s disconcerting to realise, say, that one is now older than all of Austen’s heroines. Even Anne.

I wonder if falling back in love with rereading has also prompted my sudden love of poetry. For years, poetry has intimidated me. Unlike any type of fiction or nonfiction book, which can be read from the beginning to the end without much effort, in as few sittings as you’d like, I never knew what to *do* with poetry. Now, I crave rereading some old favourite poems and want to begin reading poets that have always intrigued me; poetry no longer feels like such a mystery. I’ve also begun memorising some of those favourites, possibly the strongest act of rereading possible. It’s lovely being able to savour those words and thoughts whenever I like, and I hope to make many more poems part of me in the years to come.

Although I am now making blogging a priority again, and have a different computer that makes this easier for me despite the arthritis, I hope to retain my rereading emphasis. If anything, with my new desire to add a bit of structured liberal arts self-education to my days, I will likely be rereading more than ever. That thought fills me with such joy, as much as does the thought of all of the wonderful books out there waiting me to uncover them. They can wait patiently for a bit longer, while I deepen my relationship with a known book instead. And with that, I shall get back into my current book, Sarah Water’s The Little Stranger. This is my second time with it, and I’m approaching it so differently (without expecting-or attempting to predict-major twists or causes) it feels like it might as well be the first. Although my sympathy with Caroline remains just as strong. Do you have any favourite books to revisit?

31 Comments leave one →
  1. October 28, 2014 6:36 pm

    For a long time, I fell into the trap of reading almost nothing but the latest books of fiction and nonfiction. I suppose that I just didn’t want to miss out on any of the current conversation and that was my way of keeping up. Then it hit me. Reading had become a chore. I started re-reading ten or so books a year and looking into past decades to see what was being published back then. I found some gems and my love of reading (and re-reading) is stronger than ever.

    Coincidentally, after a 13-month hiatus from blogging due to family obligations, I am just getting cranked up again on my blog this week.

    You are on the right track…glad to hear that you are better.

    • November 4, 2014 4:58 pm

      Oh I could never read only just-published books! Even when I’m reading all new-to-me books they include a lot of older ones. I’m glad reading isn’t a chore for you anymore. :)

  2. October 28, 2014 7:34 pm

    Oh, you’re so right about reading poetry–it has to be read and then reread, I think usually in the same sitting, even the first encounter. I’ve talked before about how I read a poem in a circle–I keep going until I find something that I have felt, and then wiggle my way into understanding some of the rest of it from there. I’ve been rereading aubades, morning poems.

    • November 4, 2014 4:59 pm

      I love your description about how you read poetry! When I read a poem for the first time, I read it 3 times in the same sitting, both aloud and in my head. Do you have any poet recommendations for me (she asks, hopefully)?

      • November 5, 2014 6:37 am

        One of my favorite poets is Philip Larkin, and my favorite poem by him starts out “My mother, who hates thunderstorms, holds up each summer day and shakes it out suspiciously lest swarms of grape-dark clouds are lurking there…”

  3. October 28, 2014 7:54 pm

    I turn to poetry for comfort. Prose often does that for me too but poetry is pure feeling. That being said, my knowledge is shamefully limited-I don’t read an entire book at once and stick to a few authors I love mostly (that is not a bad thing but there are so many talented poets and good poetry out there). Not to mention that I stick to English, American, Romanian, French and Spanish authors which again makes me terribly limited (the struggle is real even with prose).

    Rereading I don’t do much although there is as you mentioned, tremendous value in reading a book multiple times. Gone with the wind and Harry Potter are probably the biggest two comfort rereads.

    • October 28, 2014 7:59 pm

      By the way, your thoughts about Austen heroines made me realize I am two years older than Lizzie and probably older than all others except Anne. When I first read Austen, twenty seemed very far away, ha!
      However, she is my favorite and I love rereading Persuasion to reconnect with lovely Anne.

      • November 4, 2014 5:03 pm

        20 seemed far away for me too when I discovered her! And I adore Persuasion, although I can’t say it’s my favourite, as any time I commit to 1 favourite Austen I reread another one and change my mind all over again. ;)

        Um, if you’re reading poetry in 5 languages, you’re far less limited than me! I did quite a bit of poetry reading for my Russian major, and a bit for my French one, but for now I’m sticking with English poets or translations. I think reading poetry in another language is the biggest challenge of all, as you don’t have the same context clues. What I like best for poetry translations are the bilingual editions that have the original & translation on facing pages, so that I can read aloud the original and get a sense of the rhythm/shape of it. Although even that only works for Russian, French, and now Spanish, as I wouldn’t have any clue how to pronounce, say, a German poem. Which is a shame, because of Rilke!

  4. October 28, 2014 8:25 pm

    Do you reread books strictly from beginning to end? Or do you open a favorite book at random and read for as long as you feel like? I usually do the latter, and I find myself wishing I would do it less, or at least choose more opportune times.

    I hope you post some on poetry.

    • November 4, 2014 5:04 pm

      I reread strictly, although I revisit my favourite bits in my head whenever I like. ;) I even usually reread series in order instead of skipping to my favourites! I’ve never tried just opening a book at random (can you tell I’m an orderly sort? hehe), but now I want to.

  5. Shweta permalink
    October 28, 2014 10:14 pm

    Hi Eva. I was contemplating writing a post on rereading. My thoughts on the subject echo your sentiments. I have begun rereading a lot these days especially the Eva Ibbotson books. They are children’s fiction but they make for such comfort reading.

    • November 4, 2014 5:05 pm

      You should write that post! I’ve only read 1 Eva Ibbotson (The Countess Below Stairs), but I can see how she’d be comforting. Some of my very favourite rereads are my childhood favourites!

  6. Beth F permalink
    October 29, 2014 5:21 am

    I have a handful of books I reread — one is the entire Lord of the Rings (including The Hobbit) about every 5 years. I’ve done this since I was about 11. In fact, I was considering it on audio over the winter.

    • November 4, 2014 5:06 pm

      Oh I reread LOTR on audio when we did that read-a-long: it was great! I don’t care for the Hobbit film adaptations (much to my surprise! I genuinely expected to really enjoy them, as I’m not as attached to that book as I am to LOTR, but they’re too action-packed/video game like for my tastes), but I do love hearing the dwarves singing.

  7. chowmeyow permalink
    October 29, 2014 2:43 pm

    I completely agree! Rereading favorite books is one of the greatest joys of reading.

    Some of my very favorite books to re-read:
    The Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hard Lovelace
    Slaughterhouse Five
    A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
    The Anne of Green Gables series
    I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
    The Harry Potter series
    All of JD Salinger’s books, especially Nine Stories

    Recently I made a list of books I loved very much but have not re-read yet, so that I could make time to do so. On that list is:
    The Elegance of the Hedgehog
    The Book Theif
    The Namesake
    The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
    Cat’s Cradle

    • November 4, 2014 5:07 pm

      Those are some lovely lists! And we share Anne & the Dodie Smith in common. I loved the Salinger short stories I’ve read, but I’ve not revisited any of his works (and have never read Catcher in the Rye). I bet I’d enjoy rereading him though: thank you for the idea!

  8. October 29, 2014 3:34 pm

    I reread any book I’ve loved. If a book doesn’t stand up to a reread, I tend to assume that my love for it wasn’t that true in the first place. I reread constantly — rereads are good for when you’re brushing your teeth or cooking or anything that uses up part of your attention but includes some standing-around-and-waiting times. It’s the BEST.

    • November 4, 2014 5:08 pm

      Haha: it sounds like you use rereading the way I use audiobooks! I think sometimes the fault is in me if a rereading doesn’t work; other times it’s definitely in the book though. Or just the passage of time.

  9. October 30, 2014 10:44 am

    It was lovely to read your thoughts on this. I do so love rereading. After all, that’s why I have a “permanent shelf” with all my most-loved books: I want to enjoy them again and again. I keep thinking one of these days I will set aside several months (or a year) to just reread my favorites! And yes, like Jenny that’s my test of a book- will it stand up to a reread? if I suspect not, I don’t keep it around.

    • November 4, 2014 5:09 pm

      I bet that shelf is such a comfort to behold! A lot of the used books I’ve bought over the past couple years have been books I’ve already read & loved & now want easily accessible for rereading.

  10. October 30, 2014 5:47 pm

    Great post. Some argue that life is too short to reread books, but I think there is considerable value in it, even for books you did not love completely the first time. When you first read something you over emphasize the plot, whereas the second time around you know what is happening and enjoy the characterization, mood, themes and setting with greater effect. The first time I read Crime and Punishment, I thought it was only ok, the second time was a far richer experience and it made it into one of my favorite novels.

    • November 4, 2014 5:09 pm

      I agree that sometimes a book works much better on the second go round! Yay for Dostoevsky. ;)

  11. sallyjanevictorious permalink
    November 2, 2014 9:08 am

    You are a new delight for me, a side journey from The Captive Reader, although you will now be a destination. One of my mother’s best friends, an elegant woman worthy of my adoration, was diagnosed with terminal cancer and warned that she had not long in this world. She told my mother that her first thought was, “Oh, no!” and her second was, “But I have so many books I want to reread.”

    • November 4, 2014 5:10 pm

      Thank you for visiting & commenting Sally Jane! Claire’s blog is lovely. :)

      That is a sad story, but I hope your mother’s friend was able to spend the rest of her time rereading those books.

  12. November 2, 2014 12:20 pm

    I love to reread! It is my secret addiction. Favorite books to reread: Middlemarch, Jane Eyre, anything by Jane Austen. And poetry is one of my comforts: Wordsworth and Rilke are favorites. I’ve read and loved several Sarah Waters books, and The Little Stranger prompted an intense desire to discuss the book. That is a book that I probably would reread.

    • November 4, 2014 5:11 pm

      Yes to The Little Stranger being good for discussion! I must confess I didn’t get drawn in during my reread, but I think that was because of me, not Waters. I’ve reread Austen so much I almost know the books by heart. ;) I’ve only read Middlemarch 2 or 3 times, but I currently have My Life in Middlemarch out from the library, and I suspect that will prompt a reread! It’s my favourite of the Eliots I’ve read (I think 5?).

  13. November 2, 2014 2:43 pm

    I have also missed rereading the amount I used to before blogging (I think I’m about where you were with 10% now). I actually decided a couple of weeks ago to spend a good part of my reading time this winter revisiting books that I either love or can’t remember. I’ll be putting together my list of possibilities later today! I agree that a reread allows you to slow down, commit to characters without worrying about plot, and allow yourself to simply enjoy a story you already know.

  14. November 4, 2014 7:31 am

    My blogging break also greatly increased my rereading. This year I reread a bit of everything- fiction, ya series, nonfiction. I forgot how much I love it, and how much I really crave it. And yet, upon double checking… My rereading was only about 13% so far this year! Which tells me that I should make a concerted effort not to give it up once I get back into blogging.

    • November 4, 2014 5:12 pm

      Isn’t it interesting how blogging breaks affect our reading?!

  15. November 4, 2014 7:33 pm

    Your mention that you are now older than Austen’s characters reminded me of something I was thinking about just the other day. One of my favorite rereads is Back When We Were Grownups by Anne Tyler. The first time I read it I was the same age as the main character, and now I am thirteen years older. It does make one ponder. :<) I did so love this post.

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

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