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Repeats, Encore

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What’s the first book that you ever read more than once? (I’m assuming there’s at least one.)
What book have you read the most times? And–how many?

Long-time readers of the blog would know the answer right away: The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. I have read the different translations of the book at least 6 times, and reviewed it 4 times on this blog. It is one of the richest and most remarkable books I have ever read. Every re-reading affords new insights and meaning—a book for which it’s challenging to write a review that encompasses all its themes. Highly allegorical, with humorous, surreal, and religious nuances galore, The Master and Margarita is a product of reconciliation of the absolute opposites: how would anyone ever conceive a world in which God and Satan work toward the same end, and that good is not necessarily better than evil? This is only possible through Bulgakov’s enduring experiences during the remarkable era that powerfully affected his perspectives on politics and life. If you haven’t read it, you should do so immediately.

The first book that I ever read more than once is Shadow Without A Name by Ignacio Padilla. I re-read for clarity, making sure I didn’t miss any of the details that concern the four sections of which the different narrators all adopt the same name. That it was set in World War II, and revolved around an encrypted code that embedded the secrets of the many failed attempts by Nazi officers opposed to Hitlers policies to destroy the regime from within make it very intriguing to read.

Other books I have read more than once include The Remains of the Day, Anna Karenina, Crime and Punishment, The name of the Rose, and The Hours.

14 Responses

  1. I have read Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier a few times. There are many other books that I would like to reread, Master and Margarita being one of them!

    • Rebecca is on my pantheon list of books that are meant to be re-read. Now I’m searching for an audio version of it. As per The Master and Margarita, I read it every year. I’m trying to look for the graphic novel that Marie (Boston Bibliophile) has reviewed.

  2. I’ve read many books more than once, classics for the most part. The Hours two or three times.

    I go much further back in my own history with this question though. The first book I remember reading more than once, other than picture books that were read to me I suppose, was Watership Down. I read it three times in a row while on a family vacation. I couldn’t put it down. Those darn rabbits had me enthralled. I tried to re-read it a few years ago and couldn’t get through it.

    • Michael Cunningham’s prose begs for re-reads. I had to back-trek through The Hours and the recent By Nightfall. He has a predilection for shifting from third person narrative to an inner voice. I also re-read a lot of my favorite books, like The Name of the Rose, The Master and Margarita, and almost all of Dostoevsky’s.

  3. You should get freaking royalties from that book I swear! I have it loaded on my Kindle. One of these days…

    As for my re-reads, it started early. I’m sure my first was some such thing like a Judy Blume book. Based on my original copy of Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret? With it falling apart? That would probably be the first.

    • Sandy, oh Sandy, I’m waiting for the day when you unleash your thoughts on The Master and Margarita. Don’t worry, the book is not meant to be rushed. Take your time.

      Judy Blume is a favorite as well. In fact, I don’t know what happened to my copy of Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret?

  4. I tend to be a fanatical re-reader–one of my reading goals this year is to avoid (or limit) the re-reads and to branch out a bit. But it’s just so hard to break the habit– the comfortable sinking into the book you know so well is addicting.

    The first book that I remember re-reading repetitively is The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy. I “discovered” it when I was sixteen, and have read it at least twenty times in the past decade. I can quote great chunks–I re-read it not for additional clarity (it’s not a complicated book) but for the reimmersion in the beauty and simplicity of a masked avenger novel.

    Possession, by A. S. Byatt. I’ve read it approximately once a year for the last five, and have come away stunned by the brilliance every time. Each element (poems, stories within stories, letters) contribute in an individual way to the exploration of the ideas proposed. Possibly my favorite book. It’s between that and The Hours, which also demands multiple reads to plumb the depths.

    • I agree, while I like to branch out to new authors and genres, I allocate time for re-reads. Many of the books on my re-read list demand multiple reads to plumb the depths, as you have aptly mentioned. Recently I have re-read The Remains of the Day and realized the nuances of a father-son relationship that I have overlooked in my first two readings. The Master and Margarita, of course, is like a well of underground water that is an incessant source of ideas and biblical subtexts. The Hours, which I have read twice, is also begging another encore.

  5. Thanks for this great post! Bulgakov’s book is on my TBR. I’m French and did all my school education in France, and read a lot. Then I came in the US and reread a lot of classics in English, such as Gulliver’s Travels, Wuthering Heights, The Grapes of Wrath, etc etc. The book I read most often is a tiny book by Emile Zola called Le Rêve – The Dream. I have only reread it once in English, but I just discovered Dailylit.com and I may use it to reread it once more in French! It’s not one of Zola’s most famous books, but I think he manages to create such an enchanting atmosphere – and hard of course, that is really haunting. Emma @ Words And Peace

    • I’m always conscious of how little French literature I have read. In school I read short stories of Guy de Massaupant and Flaubert’s novels—not even in depth. Recently at the library sale, to my luck, I acquired a copy of The History of French Literature, which really opens my eyes to the subject over time. I have never read Emile Zola and so The Dream would be my starting point.

  6. Kudos for reading Master and Margarita multiple times. The first read was difficult, but when I finished, I did think I’d have to read it multiple times to fully appreciate it. I haven’t yet though.

    The Fountainhead and Catcher in the Rye are my two most read books. Couldn’t love either more than I do.

    • While I was not completely lost the first time, I felt the unease that I didn’t fully understand all the implications and subtexts of the work. The retinue’s escapade through Moscow, the flash-back to Pontius Pilate, and the numerous biblical references that were not immediately obvious—-they beg for re-reads in order to be understood. I just finished The Fountainhead last month and love it!

  7. I’ve just recently finished TM&TM for the first time, largely based on many of your recommendations, and I can’t wait to let it sit for a little bit so that I can re-read it and realize all those things that passed me by the first time. Thanks for another great BTT Matt!

  8. […] my favorite novels, of which there are enough to fill half a bookcase. I will not elaborate on The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, which I have read 6 times and which I have discussed on the blog on numerous […]

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