Andromeda/Your Turn: The purpose and joys of rereading

Yesterday, I wrote about revision. Today, I want to know what you think about rereading.

Several times recently I’ve come across this quote: “Curiously enough, one cannot read a book: one can only reread it. A good reader, a major reader, an active and creative reader is a rereader.” Vladimir Nabokov, Strong Opinions.

The quote, and an entire essay by Zadie Smith on reading Nabokov (especially Pnin) and Roland Barthes is here, from Smith’s essay collection, Changing My Mind.

I posted the rereading question on Facebook yesterday and received some wonderful replies. The answers reminded me that my own primary reason for rereading — to learn how great stories are structured, to teach myself how to write — is not the main reason for many. Some people want to reconnect with their own earlier self, to remember who they were or to test whether a book that touched them long ago will touch them still.

As a writer, I am inspired by the notion, as discussed by Zadie Smith, of getting to know a half-dozen books really well over one’s reading lifetime. I’m not sure what those six very special books would be for me (Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and Nabokov’s Lolita might be a start).

When I first read a book (or watch a film for that matter), I’m either distracted by delight, or I find myelf willing the book or film to go in directions I want it to go. On a reread, I can simply pay better attention to what is, and perhaps why the author made the choices he or she did. Not because they are my top choices of all time, but only because I have a hankering and am curious to peek behind the authorial curtains and see if I can notice more this time around about structure and voice, I’m thinking of rereading Orwell’s 1984 , Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier, and Ian McEwan’s Atonement, plus perhaps a few of the suggestions below, starting with Proulx’s Shipping News

From Facebook:

Jan Flora The Shipping News (Proulx) and Animal Dreams (Kingsolver). I catch more of the symbolism with every re-reading.

Erin Anais Hanson I’ve re-read love in the time of cholera 6 or 7 times now. First read it when I was 16 and every time I re-read it I find some new way to relate to it. I try to re-read books that I claim as “favorites” every couple of years. It’s a great way to see how I’ve changed as a reader and how the material holds up.

Rich Capitan somehow it has become almost cliche’, but Lord of the Rings. During my previous life doing field work, the books always came with me into the field.

Michael Tuchman Women in Love gets a re-reading every two years. Sadly, another book that has always been a powerful influence on me (Demian by Hesse) has proven somewhat shallower on re-reading 🙁 I re-read the Women in Love because I find the broad scope of social conflict fascinating as well as the study in the violence inherent in male-female coupling. This is still a difficult topic to broach.

Rich Capitan Sorry I didn’t list the “why” of my choice: the depth of detail and complexity of the writing and mythos. Also, the story is near and dear to me since its been part of my life since the age of six or something. A very important slice of who I am and a huge amount of comfort and connecting with my childhood.

Rosemary Austin I don’t reread that many, but To Kill a Mockingbird is a timeless reminder of how we treat our fellow humans. I’ve also reread The Shipping News. Love the prose.

Gita Shipkowitz Andromeda-I have enjoyed rereading Ramona the Pest, the Henry Huggins books, and all the rest by B. Cleary! I enjoyed them, and now my kids are!

Sharon Lax The God of Small Things…

James O’Brien Animal Farm and The Catcher in the Rye.

4 thoughts on “Andromeda/Your Turn: The purpose and joys of rereading”

  1. Erin Anais Hanson

    I always feel a little guilty re-reading since there are so many books out there that I've never touched and authors I've never experienced, it seems a little limiting to re-read. Of course, once I commit to re-reading something, I'm always glad that I did. This fall I re-read Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale, which was a book I read and loved in my early years of college. It was a shock to find that, while the images I had found so moving were still affecting, the prose was underwhelming. It was a good lesson in how books can excite you and distract you on the first read, but the second read (or 3rd, 4th, 5th) is where you really start to understand the mechanics of the thing.

  2. Since I taught English for 20 years, I've read many of the classics more than once. I have read all of Jane Austen's books at least twice, some more than that, because I love to revisit her characters and her great wit. Shakespeare, of course, has some of the best observations on human nature and the words are beautiful. Mark Twain always surprises with new nuances, and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird–well, that scene with Boo Radley and Atticus Finch makes me cry every single time. I could go on, but you get the idea! Rereading is like visiting old friends.

  3. Like Lynn, I find teaching literature is a good excuse to reread favorites. Twain's Huck Finn seems more insightful and funnier every time–even the problematic last section. And Toni Morrison's Jazz (or almost anything else), Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, anything by Mahfouz or Marquez. And poets–Dickinson, Whitman, Bishop, and, lately Eliot. And Gertrude Stein makes more sense every time, too. It seems like the voices of the authors begin to come alive after enough rereading–if the work holds up. The more I think about it, the more I think I'd better get reading!

  4. re-reading…….is very ……vital in our life because in first read we can only go through the contents or subject but after2-3 reading we actually get the real taste of book……

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