As a child, there was one book that I read over and over again. I don’t just mean that every summer I’d pick it up and have another, if slightly disinterested flick through. No, I really re-read it. I’d read through the whole thing from start to finish at least once a month, with dedicated concentration to every word. Most evenings, I’d pick out a chapter that had sprung to mind and I’d slowly, delicately pick through it. I’d go through the dramatic scenes, each time imagining myself as a different character, feeling my emotions, lip-synching my words, and wondering if perhaps I could have found another option to the inevitable outcome on the page. I’d imagine other adventures I’d have as one of the characters, inventing my own spin off series for a minor character, or sequel for the main players. I read it until the pages fell out, and then I read it some more. I read it until my parents decided it was best to disappear the book from my room, and then I saved up my pocket money and bought it again, diligently refolding the corners of the best pages.
In some ways, it really matters what that book was, because that story obviously captured my imagination in a deep way. However, in the point I want to make here isn’t about the power of that particular book, and so I won’t mention it because I’ll get caught up in it again! The point I want to make is about the joy and practice of re-reading. When I re-read that book, it wasn’t that I was absorbed in it to the denial of all other stories or all other characters; I continued to read widely and voraciously…really I read any printed text that was nearby. Yet now, I rarely re-read, no matter how much I have enjoyed a book. There are several novels that I’ve read in the past few years that, as soon as I finished, I wanted to sit down and read again….Cloud Atlas, American Gods, The Tiger’s Wife, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay to name a few. They are stories that have a depth and complexity to them, and are written in a style that I could never be bored by. I absolutely believe that I would enjoy these books as much if not more the second, or forty-second time through, precisely because it takes that much time and re-reading to imagine yourself as each of the characters, or as the author, or to come across ideas and thoughts in your interaction with the text that you had previously overlooked.
I re-watch films that I love. I regularly re-read academic articles or books, especially if I want to make sure I’ve understood the meaning or to re-interpret it in the light of another text or event that I’ve come across since.
So why don’t I re-read my favourite fiction books any more?
I know that there is an element of time involved – there are so many books I want to read that I haven’t yet read that it would seem silly and rather indulgent to return to a familiar story. It’s also because most of these books as quite long as well and I tend to like reading these books in as few sittings as possible. Yet that seems like a rather feeble excuse for not doing something that will perhaps take a few days, and that I know I will undoubtedly enjoy.
So I’m going to pick up one of these books again, and learn from my younger self about the practice of re-reading.
Any guesses on the book? (Some of you will already know…)
Do you have a book that you re-read as often as possible? Do you re-read books at all?