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Re-Read Books, A Matt’s Musing

Enter the Books Giveaway to win the book of your choice by December 1.

thehours“So many books, so little time.” This old saying has pinged all over book blogsphere and bookstores, where readers sigh about the lack of time to read. Even Queen Elizabeth II (guess which book) feigns sickness to shun her stately duties in exchange for time for just a few more pages. With so many new books and only limited time, readers often find themselves in a dilemma: Should we hang on to a book that doesn’t engage? Or should we call the day after thirty or so pages? What about books that might deserve a second visit?

I maintain a re-reading pile since I became a serious reader. I usually re-read the favorite books named on the left sidebar of the blog on a rotation basis. These books are not only lyrical and well-written, they also, if not directly make an impact on me at one station or another in my life, remind me of some delicate patches of memories. The works of W. Somerset Maugham, James Baldwin, E.M. Forster, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Jose Saramago have defined who I am and what I hold to be the most important values of life.

Re-reading helps solidify my understanding of an author’s scope and idea. Usually the second time affords nuances and meaning that transcend the storyline. One example is Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, which I plan to re-read next month. The novel is essentially a series of “literary conceits,” concepts and ideas which constantly reference and imitate the original Mrs. Dalloway without actually copying the novel itself. Cunningham strives to capture Woolf’s tone of voice without exactly copying her style, and is largely successful; the three stories are interesting in and of themselves and they ultimately merge in a surprising manner; and the entire thing is written with tremendous style and grace.

Do you re-read books? If so, do you re-read the same ones?

32 Responses

  1. I used to reread almost as much as I read new material, but feel like I’ve just about given uprereading, which makes me sad because second, third, and fourth readings so often enhance my pleasure on a favorite book.

    I’ve actually been considering keeping a reread book at my office to read on my lunch breaks. It’s sometimes too noisy in the lunch room to concentrate on new material, but I could manage a reread in that environment. I could keep myself busy for years just rotating through the favorite books on my shelf.

  2. I haven’t re-read a book in a long time. The most notable books I’ve re-read are Lolita, Gone with the Wind, and Little Women and Asylum by Patrick McGrath. I get something new out of a book each time I read it. Something new sticks out – something I don’t remember from a previous read. I can only think that life experience changes the things that catch your eye. Using Little Women as an example, Marmee sticks out to me much more now that I am a mother than she did when I was not. I feel that when I re-read a book I get out of it what I need from that book. I don’t know if that makes sense or not. I think it’s important to re-read and this post makes me realize that I don’t make it enough of a priority. Thanks for the insight!

  3. For a long while I didn’t except for a few favorites – My Name is Asher Lev, For Kings and Planets, Franny and Zooey, Raise High the Roof Beams Carpenter and Seymour, Howard’s End, The Waves, Brideshead – because it felt like there were too many books I had never read at all. But now, as I get more deeply into reading and writing, and into writing about what I read, I find myself wanting to deepen my understanding, hence my Middlemarch, The Chosen, White Noise, Possession, and Phillip K. Dick re-reads this year. Are you going to re-read Mrs. Dalloway before you re-read The Hours?

  4. I re-read Middlemarch just this year. I only keep books that I think I’ll re-read someday. Recently I re-read several by Phillip K. Dick. Seven years into the current president, I thought some paranoid science fiction was called for. I re-read The Lives of the Monster Dogs every so many years and a book called The Theory of War by Joan Brady. Dickens gets a re-read now and then. I’ve read all of them so I can only re-read. David Copperfield was the most recent.

    I’ve had people make fun of me for this, but I ask them if they ever listen to the same piece of music more than once? What’s the difference? I think I re-read books for the same reasons people listen to the same song over and over.

  5. I used to re-read some of my favourites books in the past, but I hardly do so nowadays because I’ve too many books to read (yeah, I know it’s a cliche, haha!)! They’re taking up most of my space than the read ones, seriously! I don’t think I’ll do any re-reading in the near future… but then who knows I may change my mind later? 😉

  6. I’m rereading Anna Karenina right now. And last week I reread Emma. So yeah, I’m definitely a rereader! At the end of last year, I noticed that I hadn’t reread nearly as many books as I usually do…I think the pressure of so many books in the blogging community really got to me. So one of my goals this year was to reread more of my favourites. 🙂

  7. I almost never re-read…not that I don’t want to but…you know my quandry. I remember re-reading “Smilla’s Sense of Snow” by Peter Hoeg which made a huge impact on me when I read it initially. I couldn’t get it off my mind. I often feel, as I am reading something for the first time, that I would be well-served to re-read and better appreciate a book. A good example would be “Saturday” by Ian McEwan, which I very recently reviewed. I really slogged my way through this book for various reasons. I think I would better appreciate it to read it a second time, but I guarantee that won’t happen!

  8. Like you, I re-read some of my favorites. I’m not so keen on new book releases until they’re really good ones. But I do have re-read inventory, right off the bet, the Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz and now some of the Russian literature works you have recommended. I would also like to re-read Lord of the Flies, which was a favorite from middle school. 🙂

  9. I’m acutely aware that there are so many excellent books that I’ll never get to, but I do re-read as a matter of principle. With certain books it takes me more than once to really learn the characters and understand some of the main points, so I often enjoy some works more the second time. I re-read particularly those books which I might interpret differently and benefit from in different stages of life. I’ve read War and Peace three times, Jane Eyre probably five times, the Brothers Karamazov twice; I’ve read all the Austen books more than once, and of course the Master and Margarita I intend to re read several more times.

  10. I re-read many old favourites (eg Austen, Flaubert, Trollope, Hardy, Woolf) and find something new to enjoy each time. It’s comforting to know a book is of the highest quality before you start it!

  11. I don’t really have a re-read pile. My books are lined up on the shelf, and when I have the urge to re-read something, I just grab and read. I tend to focus more on the newer books, but like to mix it up with some of my oldies but goodies.

  12. I re-read a few of my favorite books. One is The Egyptian by Miki Waltari, which you have reviewed. I enjoy re-reading historical fiction and titles that have registered in me throughout the years. Maurice is another one. I don’t have a re-read pile, I just pull the books out of the shelf whenever they occur to me.

  13. I haven’t re-read any book for my own pleasure, since I left university as I simply don’t have enough time and my own stacks of BTR grows constantly. However, my most favourite book I did read numerous times over when I was in secondary school was “To Kill A Mockingbird”. I just wonder if I read it again, as an adult, would I enjoy it as much as I did when I was technically a child?

  14. Teresa:
    Keeping reread books at work sounds like a great idea. I also have troubling concentrating when people are talking. I manage to re-read some of my favorites every year. They look so begging to be re-read. 🙂

  15. Jennifer:
    I have re-read most of the major Russian literature works because I have been teaching them. When I have got the story down, the second, or third time around my attention shifts to the nuances of social condition, the interaction between characters, what is said vs. not said, literary structure, and relationship between theme and the structure. New insights and nuances alway spawn when I discuss these things with students. I re-read War and Peace, Anna Karenina, The master and Margarita this year.

  16. Ted:
    Good call. I’m planning to re-read Mrs. Dalloway before The Hours this time. I haven’t read anything by Evelyn Waugh so Brideshead would be a good place to start. Re-reading always affords deeper understanding and new nuances about a work. Sometimes I feel my understanding is lacking which motivates me to re-read. 🙂

  17. CB James:
    Very good! The delay factor for a book is much longer than a song, but the underlying idea is actually the same. I feel comfortable re-reading my favorites every year. 🙂

  18. Melody:
    I often find the idea of re-reading very appealing especially when I’m experiencing a reading block. Just imagine you know the books are of high quality change change your mind. 🙂

  19. Eva:
    Good for you! I love Anna Karenina! I taught the book this summer so I re-read it yet another time. I have always set aside a few weeks in the year to re-read my favorite books. They need to have continuous presence in my reading habit. The Master and Margarita is one that I re-read every year.

  20. Sandy:
    Interesting answer! I usually would know whether I will re-read a book or not about halfway through it. Major criteria would be the story and characters. But I would re-read a book for its exceptional writing and literary style.

  21. John:
    I read Lord of the Flies back in high school, in 10th grade maybe. I didn’t enjoy it at all at the time, thought it was some kind of adventure tale of a bunch of brats. But in college re-visited the book and which opened up new meaning to me. It’s a great re-reading choice!

  22. Greg S:
    In spite of the huge amount of new books coming out, I still cherish and savor favorite old ones. Those are the books that will stay with me and define a station of my life. They’re very dear and meaningful. I try to maintain a balance between new and old books. My goal is not to read as many books as possible, but to be enlightened by what I read.

  23. Sarah:
    I completely agree with you. I develop deeper understanding of the work and what it means to me and life when I re-read. It’s also a quick read as well. 🙂

  24. Greg C:
    I’m surprised that you don’t re-read your favorites. 🙂

  25. Ken:
    I love The Egyptian. It’s a tale of perserverance and denial of vanity set against a very appealing time and place. 🙂

  26. r:
    To Kill A Mockingbird vehemently condemns those who recklessly bend the law at the expense of the innocent’s life for the satisfaction of one’s supremacy. It also satirizes self-righteous people who rave madly when anything involving a black person occurs. Every page of the novel reminds us that the fight for equality is yet over. If the school board has to take off all the old titles, To Kill a Mocking Bird should stay. It’s an important book of our time.

  27. I re-read To Kill a Mockingbird last year (I think) just to find out if I was the same person I was when I first read it (in secondary school). It was comforting to know some of the same parts still make me cry, and I feel more for the book now after having re-read it.

    I don’t usually re-read books. But I among the books I have re-read and will reread again, is To Kill a Mockingbird, The Snow Leopard and The English Patient. What does it say about me, I do not know.

  28. Before this topic came up, I had already decided that my 16-year-old student (who has a good grasp of the English language) would be getting a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird for Christmas. I’m sure she’ll “enjoy” the novel as much as I did when I was 15 years old and if she doesn’t, the exposure she’ll receive from it won’t do her any harm.

  29. Dark Orpheus:
    You have an interesting point. A book can be a measure of spiritual growth and a testimony of our changing values. Now you have reminded me to re-read The English Patient, a book I have to confess that it’s not easy for me to read. 🙂

  30. r:
    I’m interested in what your student thinks of the book. To Kill A Mockingbird would be appropriate for F4 students, I suppose. I’m not sure what students at that level are reading. I have the impression that HK curriculum focuses more on grammar and writing. Students panic at conversational English. I can speak from my own experience with store clerks and baristas at coffee shops in Soho.

  31. To Kill A Mockingbird was one of my reading texts when I was in F4 in the UK but I didn’t give her this last year (when she was in F4) because I knew she hadn’t covered the 1900s in the U.S in history in school yet and I wanted her to read the book and be able to appreciate it by herself without any guidance/ help from me. You’re right about the HK curriculum being exam-orientated and that grammar by rote learning is still considered the way to “succeed” in English but luckily there are parents now who are able to afford and are receptive to a more communicative approach to language acquisition.

    I, too am very eager to see how this student finds To Kill A Mockingbird and in a way, can’t wait to give her this gift, but I must wait. Her reading ability has been one that I have quietly help nurture from when she was a shy 7-year-old and is on par (imho) to any reasonably educated young person from an English-speaking country from a decent school system. She even read Pride and Prejudice (and not an abridged version either – I checked) on her own in 2006 & enjoyed it too although I think watching the film helped but still, I was so proud of her.

    For someone of her age, the only area of reading in English where she’ll struggle is with Shakespeare but then again, so many native English speakers struggle with it too. However, in order to give her exposure to more genres, and to give her a break from all the boring work we have been doing the past few years, I’ve already suggested that we have a purely Eng. Lit. focused session of classes in the summer, after her HKCEEs (and it was warmly received). I’ve not yet told her that I’m seriously considering doing Shakespeare though and having never really taught it, I’m not exactly too sure if I really could do so without it backfiring on me and reinforcing her current notion that Shakespeare is boring and hard. Any help/ suggestions are more than welcome.

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