The Joy of Re-Reading

“A list of books that you reread is like a clearing in the forest: a level, clean, well-lighted place where you set down your burdens and set up your home, your identity, your concerns, your continuity in a world that is at best indifferent, at worst malign. Since you, the reader, are that hero of modern literature, the existential loner, the smallest denominator of moral force, it behooves you to take counsel, sustenance, and solace from the writers who have been writing about you these hundred or five hundred years, to sequester yourself with their books and read and reread them to get a fix on yourself and a purchase on the world that will, with luck, like the house in the clearing, last you for life.”

Source: L.E. Sissman (from “The Constant Rereader’s Five-Foot Shelf” in Innocent Bystander: The Scene from the 70s (1975); quoted by Patrick Kurp at his blog ANECDOTAL EVIDENCE (April 29, 2021)


How Much of Your Reading is Re-Reading?

Nobokov's Lectures on Literature cover

We’ve all heard about, or read about, readers who’ve repeatedly read certain books – even readers who claim to read a certain favorite at least once a year.

On the other hand, other booklovers – perhaps oversensitive to the the tragic arithmetic resulting from the “So Many Books, So Little Time” predicament of all readers – choose against reading again any book they’ve already read, regardless of how much they enjoyed reading that book the first time, or how profoundly it affected them.

Like so many other avid readers who were also writers, Vladamir Nabokov encouraged readers to spend more of their reading time revisiting certain books – usually those books that are widely considered classics.

According to Nabokov, “A good reader, a major reader, an active and creative reader is a rereader.” He beautifully explained his reasoning in his introduction to Lectures on Literature (1980). This essay is not a quick read, but it’s a persuasive one.

Read Nabokov’s essay.

Found via Patrick Kurp’s February 7, 2020 blogpost at Anecdotal Evidence

On Re-Reading

In “The Constant Rereader’s Five-Foot Shelf” (Innocent Bystander: The Scene from the 70s), L.E. Sissman writes:

“A list of books that you reread is like a clearing in the forest: a level, clean, well-lighted place where you set down your burdens and set up your home, your identity, your concerns, your continuity in a world that is at best indifferent, at worst malign.”

The Joys (and the Dangers?) of Re-Reading

One of the glorious paradoxes of The Reading Life is the fact that as much pleasure can be gained from re-reading a book as from reading something new to you.

Last week, in The Guardian, several well-known British writers weighed in with their reflections about the role of re-reading in their lives.

Here’s just one of these compelling mini-essays, written by Booker award-winner John Banville:

The more often we reread a favourite classic the more of its secrets it gives up: each time we revisit it we see more clearly the cogs and flywheels of the writer’s technique behind what at first had been its opaque and burnished surface. Inevitably this brings on a certain disenchantment. The only book I know of that successfully resists this process is The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald’s novel is not “great” in the way that War and Peace or Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony are great – and is all the better for it. Fitzgerald was forever the inspired amateur, and Gatsby has all the tremulousness and delicacy of a masterpiece made against the odds. He managed it once and never again – but what an achievement it is, a kind of miracle, ever fresh, ever new, no matter how many times one ventures back into its sad, soiled and enchanted world.

As columnist Tom Lamont writes in an accompanying article:

“Rereading is therapy, despite the accompanying dash of guilt, and I find it strange that not everybody does it. Why wouldn’t you go back to something good? I return to these novels for the same reason I return to beer, or blankets or best friends.”

Found via Book Riot

Postscript. Having read The Guardian article, The Millions blogger Brian Ted Jones canvassed serveral American writers and readers about their own favorite re-reads, with this result.

On Giving a Put-Aside Book a Second Chance

For whatever reasons, we abandon novels. We leave them half-finished; we discard them after only twenty pages, we drift apart from them after the first hundred. Often we’ll never pick up where we left off. Sometimes it’ll be a season or two later, sometimes a year, a few years, when the book nudges it way back into our line of sight, begging to be reconsidered….

I am not convinced that we ever understand why a book reaches us—how it snags us at one time, but not another, or misses altogether. Words on a page are illuminated by something inside us, or else they remain just that….

But I continue to wonder about all those subtleties (and they are cultural, developmental, emotional, historical, random) that tint the lens through which we regard a book, no matter how well it was written. Do books choose us?…

– Decatur book blogger Murray Brown, upon recently rediscovering Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse