Worthy of repeat readings.

I once dated a guy who never understood why I would read certain books over and over again.  “You already know what happens,” he’d say.  “Aren’t you just wasting your time?”

“It’s not necessarily about what happens,” I would say back.  “If books were only about what happens, there would never be any new books, as every story is really just a retelling of another story.  What makes stories different from each other is the approach — the historical context, the characters, the comments the author is trying to make, etc., and those are the things that make a book worth rereading.”

“Well, didn’t you catch all that the first time around?” he would say.

“No,” I would reply, “No one can catch everything the first time around, and if you think you can, you’re delusional.”

“I catch everything,” he would say.

“How do you know what you didn’t catch if you don’t reread the book?”  (Of course, I fully admit that I’m relating this conversation in a way where I win the argument, haha.  I do stand by my point, though.)

I’ve had this conversation with other people, and it seems the girls tend to agree with me, the girl, and the boys tend to agree with the guy. I don’t know if it’s a boys-focus-on-doing and girls-focus-on-feeling thing, or if my sample size is too small, or I’ve just befriended girls with the same reading habits as mine.  But it’s a conversation worth having.  What DOES motivate me to reread some books?  I’m obviously not alone — what benefit do I get from reading something I’ve read before?

I started thinking about this because I looked at all the books strewn around my apartment and realized that in the last few weeks, I have started three different books — Emma and Mansfield Park by Jane Austen, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — that I’ve already read repeatedly, yet for some reason I picked them up yet again.  I think sometimes for me it’s a comfort thing.  I’ve read Pride and Prejudice so many times, and it’s so beautiful, that when I pick it up, I automatically feel the world righting itself, not because Elizabethan England is a perfect time, or because the characters are perfect people, but because it is a reminder of brilliance, beauty, and goodness in the world.  A world with Elizabeth Bennet in it cannot be such a bad one.

The real reason I like Pride and Prejudice.

I think I reread books for three main reasons: One, I simply enjoy the story, and knowing what happens doesn’t lessen that.  Two, I want to study the reasons why I enjoy the story.  What about the characters, plot, historical background, prose, etc. makes me want to reread this book?  Three, I want to relive the emotions I felt upon the first reading.  Jane Austen always gives me faith in myself and other people and the characters and plot are woven together flawlessly, and Harry Potter is an imaginative, wonderful world where…well, where the characters and plot are woven together flawlessly.  Both authors make me glad to be alive so I can enjoy what they write.

I’m not really sure if I’ve satisfactorily answered my own question, or if it even matters.  This is America, and I have the right to reread English authors as much as I like.  😀

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5 Responses to “Worthy of repeat readings.”

  1. blair Says:

    I’ve never been too into rereading books. There have been a couple that I have reread, but mainly I’m just reread them because there are so many details that I feel like I missed too many details. Like, I’ve reread the LOTR series a billion times because there are so many little details that I feel like I’ve been transported into another world when I read it.

    I also read, though, for escapism. I don’t tend to escape as well if I reread a book, as I already know the plot turns.

    In all fairness, though, I do have a crazy memory. I can hear a song once and know almost all the words. So, I’m probably a bad comparison.

    I don’t think it’s necessarily “dumb” to reread a book. I just think it’s not really for everyone. People approach books differently.

  2. Your sister Says:

    I just finished rereading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows last night. A lot has happened since the last time that I read it, and I find that every time I reread a book after a lot of time has passed, that I not only find things I missed before, but I understand character motivations differently.

    Some books can be a guide for what you should do in certain situations, and sometimes you can’t appreciate that unless you reread the book.

    This last time I read HPDH, I loved it the most out of all the times I read it. I enjoyed it much more than the first time, actually. I took the time to read and think critically about it, and enjoy the journey. The journey is what is interesting, not the end.

  3. Timmy Says:

    I don’t think you even have to delve too deeply to figure out why rereading is so great. You can just draw an analogy to movies or tv shows. Are there really people who watch them ONLY once? If not, why rewatch them? It’s enjoyable, familiar, and so on.

    And as “Your sister” said, when you reread (or rewatch) something after some time has passed, you will pick up on different things that you never could have on the previous reading (or watching) because you’re a different person from the person you were before. Your collection of experiences has changed, so you not only view things slightly differently and would pick up on things missed beforehand, but you would never have picked up things at all that you did the first time around.

    Perhaps the reason why some people are so confused as to why others read the same books over and over again is that reading is stigmatized. Reading has a reputation of being a chore and being work. When people are finished with school, reading a lot just becomes practically off-limits because it raises too many (bad?) feelings of school (ick!) or work (ugh!). Reading as an enjoyable hobby is unfortunately something a lot of people never really “grow up” (i.e., grow up away from the adolescent mindset of “chore-like” reading for school/work) to experience.

  4. Christine Drew Says:

    I am a repeat reader myself. I think that I repeat read because every time I do, I am at a different place in life. My reaction to that book in that moment is a snapshot of who I am. When I read it again in two months, I will notice different things based on what is going on in my life right then. When I read and I am having trouble with a family member, the relationships between family members will seem most relevant and then next time I read, something else will pop out at me. Great books are always speaking to me in different ways, and that’s why they get read over and over again.

  5. dc Says:

    reading a great work of literature is different than watching an episode of Knight Rider.

    Some people read books reluctantly as entertainment; others read them as literature. I think he fails to grasp that the good books are infinitely denser and richer than other mediums. I mean, it takes a brilliant director to capture a short story in 90 minutes. Novel treatments inevitably leave whole storylines, themes, allegories untouched.

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