July 6, 2010


The other day a friend and I were talking about rereading. She often rereads books she likes, and so do many other readers I know. They talk about how comfortable it is to revisit old favorites. They tell me that they turn to familiar books when they feel like reading but don't have the energy to get involved in a new fictional world.

I totally get this. It takes a certain amount of mental effort to start reading something new, and that's exactly why my "books read" record often shows that I spent a week on one book and then a week or two not reading any fiction while I waited for some perfect alignment of time and brainspace. Would this pattern change if I became a rereader?

Because right now, I almost never reread. In the three and a half years I've been keeping this book list, I reread two novels, both for a specific purpose. I reread THE GREAT GATSBY because I was assigned Joseph O'Neill's NETHERLAND for a class, and I wanted to be able to intelligently discuss the parallels that the critics drew between the two stories. I was also curious whether I'd like GATSBY more than I had in high school. (Answer: Not a whole lot more, but I really enjoyed NETHERLAND.) This was definitely not comfort rereading.

The second book I reread was THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE. It's one of my favorite books, but like most of my favorites, I'd only read it once. I wanted to experience the book again before seeing the movie. (Movie review: Not badly done, but not great. I liked some of the choices but hated others. Read the book.) This is certainly a novel that warrants a second reading, since there's so much that can't be fully understood until you get to later parts of the story. Reading it again was wonderful, comfortable, like visiting old friends, all those things people say about rereading, and it made me think I should reread more.

But there are so many books in the world! That's what keeps me from picking up old favorites. Time is finite, and if I read a book I've read before, then I'm not reading one I haven't. I'm a slow reader, which makes the time problem even worse. How will I ever get through my always-growing "to read" list if I repeat?

How do other readers balance the old and the new?

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Editor A. Victoria Mixon has some reasons to pat yourself on the back in 5 Things to Celebrate About Finishing Your First Draft.

→ Becky Tuch at Beyond the Margins offers a stern translation of your critique partner's gentle feedback.


Anonymous said...

It is a great idea to pick and choose books you would like to reread and learn from. Life experience and general growth in making the creative muscles stronger can affect the way you respond to the story as a whole.

Alison said...

I'm just like you - too many books out there! But I hold onto almost every one, because I *might* want to reread...there are a few old favourites I've reread, some multiple times, but usually kids' classics I have extremely fond memories of or associations with. Otherwise, got to move on to something new...

Anna Scott Graham said...

I'm a notorious rereader, holding onto certain books as if they're family. I think it stems from needing creature comforts, feeling a great security in books I've already read. While you're right, time so limited, I suppose I'll sacrifice some of those precious seconds over a novel previously read.

Anonymous said...

You should check out the anthology "Rereadings" edited by Anne Fadiman. All the insightful authorly thoughts on rereading you could ever want, packed into one slim volume (as I recall - It's been a while since I read it, so I'd have to reread it to refresh my memory). While you are at it, I highly recommend Anne Fadiman's "Ex Libris."

Lisa Eckstein said...

Great recommendations. Thanks, Z!

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