There are two kinds of readers: those who re-read, and those who don’t. The latter group, represented in the extreme by Marie Kondo of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up fame, feels there is no reason to read a book again once it’s entered your brain. You’ve gotten what there is to glean from it, and why waste time going through all that again? You can safely get rid of all previously perused material and keep your shelves nice and tidy, while your mind collects another lot of information from the next volume.
If that method works for you, I’ve nothing against it, but my experience says otherwise. To me, each time I read a book it’s different, because I’ve changed in the meantime. Re-reading creates a conversation between me and the book that is much more than a mere culling of information. There are new epiphanies and expanded awareness, with connections to other books I’ve read in the meantime, or to my life experience. A good book is a whole world in itself, and one visit is not enough to get to know all it contains.
When I was a child, I had a big shelf of books in my bedroom and I went through it over and over again. Of course I got lots of other books from the library and school, but these were the treasures that entered my soul through repeated experience. The Oz books, the Chronicles of Narnia, the Curdie books, Little Women and Little Men, Doctor Dolittle, the Maida books, Betsy-Tacy, the Shoes books, A Wrinkle in Time, the Earthsea books (lots of series!) — these and many others became real touchstones for me. I know passages by heart, and unless you have a photographic memory, that’s something you’re unlikely to gain from a single reading. Certain phrases still pop up in my mind at relevant events in my life.
Lately I’ve been doing more re-reading than usual in my adult life. This is partly because I’ve had little mental and emotional energy, so familiar books go easier on my tired brain. But I’m also looking for confirmation of certain truths I found in books in the past. Such truths, I find, only become stronger and richer over time, and that is very reassuring in an uncertain world.
When I do have a chance to come back to a beloved book, its meaning unfolds even more, and goes deeper into my soul. Sometimes I find the magic has gone and I’m disappointed, but this is rare. Usually there’s the joy of meeting a friend, and having another conversation, with the endless possibilities of discovery that provides.
Do you re-read? If so, what do you get out of it?