Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Rereading

Pride and Prejudice, To Kill a Mockingbird, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Othello, Jane Eyre, The Andromeda Strain, Matilda, The Giver, A Tale of Two Cities. What do all these books have in common besides being some of my favorite books ever? They’re all books I’ve read more than once.

The Lord of the Rings, The Green Mile, A Long Way From Chicago, A Prayer for Owen Meany, all of the Twilight series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, David Copperfield, The Secret Life of Bees. These are all books that I’ve read that are NOT on my repeat-read list, although I hope they will be some day.

I never try to “plan” my reading lists because it makes reading feel too much like schoolwork. However, I do try and make an effort to reread books I’ve read before while also reading books I haven’t read. Why? Sometimes rereading is obligatory, like, for example, having to study the same book in college that you studied in high school, but that’s rare. Most of the time I reread something because I want to. I do it for the same reason that I watch my favorite movie over and over again. listen to my favorite song on repeat, or watch reruns on television. I read/watch/listen again because I like whatever it is I’m reading, watching or listening to.

What is there to gain from reading a book more than once? One thing I do know is that no two readings are alike. Each time is different, so there’s always something new to learn if you’re paying attention. I’m always catching new details, or finding a sentence or two that piques my interest when I didn’t notice it before. With each reading, I feel like I get to know the book, its characters, its plot, and its writing style, a little bit better, each time building on the last.

Sometimes I approach a book with a specific goal in mind, paying particular attention to specific aspects of the book, so it affects the way I respond to it. With any given book, I can read it to learn more about the author, to analyze a specific theme, or maybe I don’t reread the whole book, just certain passages, for my own personal benefit. Whether you view it from an educational, analytical, biographical, or personal standpoint is going to affect what you get out of it.

The most obvious example of this is school, where teachers tend to teach a book the way they want you to learn it and encourage you to memorize the details they want you to remember. But it’s not just school. Take, for instance, an avid Harry Potter fan, who likely has memorized every minute detail of the books and come up with endless theories about the characters and the plot. Such dedication requires repeat readings and thorough study. Maybe you think they’ve gone too far, but there is something to be said for knowing a book (or books) inside and out.

And timing is everything. I’ve found that rereading a book, especially one I haven’t picked up in a long time, can give me a new appreciation for that book because I’m coming at it from a different perspective. Maybe a book I didn’t quite “get” before will have a whole new meaning for me now. Nowadays when I’m reading a book for the first time, I even wonder how I would have responded to it if I had encountered it earlier in life. Life itself affects the way you respond to a book.

So why reread books? Because you never stop learning, and if it’s a great book, it never gets old. I’ll tell you one thing: If I had to choose between a Shakespeare “expert” who’s read everything Shakespeare’s ever written, but only once, or someone who has read a few of his plays and some of his sonnets several times, I’d choose the latter. In my mind, rereading is essential to good reading habits. You should make an effort to reread books because you have to work on more than just the breadth of your reading experience—you have to work on the depth of your reading too.

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