The Joys of re-reading…

December 24, 2013

I know some people who never re-read a book, but many more who do. I’ve always enjoyed re-visiting books I’ve read before, often after quite a number of years, and this post is provoked by my going back to The Master & Margarita; it’s my fourth read, but after a gap of twenty years. I’ll write about the book itself later.

The book I’ve re-read most times is Harper Lee‘s To Kill A Mockingbird, but that’s not really a fair one, because, even though it’s a wonderful book, I’ve only read it so many times from having to teach it as a GCSE examination text – and I always ensured that we did read it through from cover to cover in class, not a word omitted. However, that experience often led me to reflect on what I get from revisiting a much-loved text.

For starters, obviously the first time one reads a book, one’s progress is largely plot-driven, as in we want to know how the story will end, and much detail may well be missed. So, second and further times around, we can concentrate more on the details, the delineation of character, subtleties we may have missed, the writer’s use of language, her/his message to the reader… anything, really. And my enjoyment is certainly enriched. Because I’m a different person twenty years on, my take on a book can be completely different next time around.

Of course, there are many books that I wouldn’t waste eyeball time on a second time. But what do I re-read? Surprisingly, perhaps, it’s quite often old favourites like Sherlock Holmes and other detective stories… time allows me to forget just enough of the plot to allow enough mystery in the next re-read. I often come back to classics like Jane Austen, and deliberately set out to focus on a certain aspect of the writing or the plot that I have become curious about, often due to something else I’ve read in the interim.

What makes a book worth re-reading? It has to have made some kind of deeper impression, I think, either through plot, character or ideas that the writer is playing with; it’s really hard to pin down and surely operates at a gut or emotional rather than a rational level: a book has spoken strongly to my condition in some way or other.

When do I re-read? When I’m bored, often picking up an old favourite wakes me up again; when I’m indecisive – there are so many unread books on the pile all calling to be picked up that I cannot choose and take refuge in one I’ve read before; when I’m on holiday if I’m only taking one book with me and I don’t want the risk of being disappointed by something new.

Often I’m reading something and it will suddenly – through an association perhaps – make me realise that I need to re-read X next, and so I do. And it does often feel like renewing an old acquaintance, or meeting up with an old friend.

One Response to “The Joys of re-reading…”

  1. […] I was inspired to write about my rereading habits after reading this post on the topic on my favourite literary […]


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