Reading / Thinking / October 1, 2011

Why I Don’t Re-read Books

Recently I’ve had a conversation with a couple different people about the merits of re-reading books. It seems that there are some people who are avid re-readers. They find a certain reading richness in digging into the same books over and over again. Re-reading is a foreign world for me.
I don’t re-read books. This isn’t a commitment I’ve made. It’s just the way I tick. I’ve never sworn off re-reading as a poor idea, and I understand why some people value it highly. In fact, I often find myself saying “I should really read that book again” when a book comes up in conversation that I enjoyed once upon a time. But I don’t ever actually re-read them.
I don’t re-read for two main reasons.
There are too many books in the world to read the same one twice (or more). As Tony Reinke says in his book Lit! (paraphrased), we only have one life to live and chance to live it. He is referring to reading intentionally, and I find my intention being to absorb as many good books as possible. It’s a compulsion to find the next good book, to absorb the knowledge it offers, to soak in the creativity and beauty within, and then do it all over again with the next book.
The second reason is of a totally different nature. I am afraid to re-read books. I am afraid of a let-down, a disappointment. Being moved by a book is a powerful experience, life-altering in some cases. Being enlightened by a book is a light so bright it is seared in memory. These feelings are so strong it is a scary thing to consider re-engaging the place from which they came. What if it isn’t as good as I recall? What if what moved me the first time seems trite this time? Books that have changed me intersected with my life at just such a time as to affect me, but what it this second intersection is the wrong time and there is no second effect?
I don’t know that my take on this one is the best one, or even if it’s right at all. To me, though, reading has a certain exploratory, adventurous aspect to it. I love the thrill of the hunt for another good book and all the wonders it holds. While I don’t disparage re-reading, I think it sets the horizons for reading so low if it is the primary means of choosing a book.
What do you think? Is my thinking off on this one?



27 Comments

Oct 01, 2011

Very few books have I re-read.
Desiring God and The Pleasures of God are among the very, very few.
I promise myself that I will read some others again, but find myself in the same boat as you are.


Oct 01, 2011

I share both reasons you listed, and will add to the reasons I do not usually re read. With christian books, I feel so accomplished by finishing, that I do not want to ruin my streak by trying again. For charicacter books, i so miss the friends i made through reading, that i have to move quickly on to a new friend (or enemy) or else i will actually feel like someone has been removed from my life…. Except To Kill A Mockingbird. Might be quliche but the story ends in a way that seems comfortable to me. I can let them go for some strange reason, but only for a time. And so i visit them, by reading, each summer. It is like sitting down with your favorite cousin you are only able to see once a year. And each moment is so wonderful that you vow to visit again next summer…. And I have been doing so for 5 years.


Oct 01, 2011

Not including the Bible, I could easily live with ten books. Surely no more than twenty. How can one not read Milton’s Paradise Lost, or Augustine’s Confessions, or Homer’s Odyssey (or Vergil’s Aeneid), or Dante’s Divine Comedy, over and over?


Oct 01, 2011

Cliche or otherwise, To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the few books I have really, seriously considered re-reading. It is so good. In all honesty, I did re-read the Lord of The Rings books several times before college. Since then i don’t think I’ve re-read anything.


Oct 01, 2011

Scot, for the sake of my understanding (NOT argument) help me understand how you can be satisfied with such a small (from my perspective) number and range of books. That seems so foreign to me.


Oct 01, 2011

If you read for the reasons you lay out about, then no, your thinking is not off. I don’t read for those reasons though, so I am pretty comfortable re-reading books at my liesure


Oct 01, 2011

What reasons do you read for, Casey. I want to understand better why people are drawn to re-read. If it’s a really valuable thing to do, I don’t want to miss out.


Oct 01, 2011

The way I see it, you are not drawn to re-read because you are secure in yourself. You blaze through books, wanting to expand your knowledge base, explore the world, engage different ideas. It makes perfect sense why you don’t re-read books.

I am less secure in myself. In many ways, I don’t read to get smarter or entertain myself. I read to try to figure out who I freaking am. I like to re-read various books for the very purpose of seeing how they hit my heart/ punch my gut differently than the first time I read them. That helps me gauge what direction I’m going. How I’ve grown/ regressed. Perhaps this is a bit of an indictment against me, but that’s how I see it.

Then again, maybe I’m way off because the Jesus Creed cat re-reads books, and I’m pretty sure he’s solid as a rock secure.

Maybe I’m just being whiny because baseball is over.


Oct 01, 2011

Ah “cliche”! That’s how you spell it. I should re read my spelling books.
Thanks.


Oct 01, 2011

Ugh. Longish comment lost forever. Ah, well.

I re-read books all the time as a child. The older I get, the less I do so. Feeling my mortality, apparently. 🙂

I only re-read fiction. It seems like it should be the opposite. I may pick up a nonfiction book to remind myself of a few points, but I don’t re-read.

I have never been disappointed in re-reading a work of fiction. If I want to re-read it, it’s because I connected with the characters. I liked the analogy of a cousin you only see once a year. It’s a lot like that.

I tend to savor novels when I re-read them. I can relax and enjoy it, rather than trying to find out what happens next.

Having said all that, the list of authors or novels I re-read is getting more exclusive: Jane Austen, To Kill a Mockingbird, etc.


Oct 01, 2011

serious question – how does this affect how you view and read the Bible?


Oct 01, 2011

Staci,

I think in childhood there’s a sense of comfort and excitement in going back to things you know instead of trying new things. There’s probably also a lack of awareness of all that’s out in the world. It’s kind of similar to why kids can eat mac & Cheese 12 times a week and be happy.

Brandon, the Bible is different because it’s the only book with a living, dynamic voice. All other books are static. When I read a book the author can communicate certain aspects of story and world view and what not, but when i read the Bible there is no limit to the reality and truth that can be communicated by the author.


Oct 01, 2011

I mostly agree with you. I have and do re-read some books. I more frequently return to a couple of pages or short sections from books I have read before. I am usually looking for a quote or to refresh my memory about what the author said. I have too many books in my “to read” pile to spend much time in re-reading.


Oct 01, 2011

I never re-read for exactly the same reasons, I think. There are so many book son my “to read” list, and that list grows about a few books every month! I feel like I’ll never have time to read the books I haven’t read yet, let alone books which I have already (excluding the Bible). The books that I have re-read are usually books which I read as a kid, and I can’t remember them anymore–they are sometimes quick reads, anyways. Monster (Walter Dean Myers) , LOTR & The Hobbit, C.S. Lewis Space trilogy….there have been others, but I can’t recall them. I haven’t re-read a book in a long time. I’ll also re-read any Dr. Seuss or Ameila Bedelia without a second’s hesitation–does that count? 😀


Oct 01, 2011

@Scot, Props for being able to read Dante over and over again. I trudged through it once and haven’t looked back.


Oct 01, 2011

Barnabas,

I understand the desire not to waste time rereading the same book, given the plethora of titles to be read. That said, the books I would consider rereading are books that have more to give than one reading can extract, be it content, argument, or enjoyment. I mean, one time through the Divine Comedy is only scratching the surface.

Also, I find I often enjoy books more on a second or third read. And if I don’t, I stop reading. I’ve read the Lord of the Rings ten times and like it more now than on my first read. And who can read Perelandra only once?


Oct 02, 2011

I find it really interesting that in all of these really balanced, well-reasoned comments, nothing has moved me closer to re-reading. I cognitively understand and support the decision to do so yet still find myself just as unlikely to partake as I was prior to posting this. It seems that, just like in most of life, there is a range of inclination (giftedness?) that God has granted.


Oct 02, 2011

well, also, you work for a publisher, so re-reading books doesn’t provide you with much job security


Oct 02, 2011

Ha, good point Casey. I HAVE to find new books to read all the time.


Oct 02, 2011

I don’t re-read books either, but I often wonder what the big deal is. I watch several good movies over and over. I guess it’s the issue of time.

I just finished When I Don’t Desire God by John Piper and I think I will re-read chapters of that, just because it’s so helpful.

Most of the time re-reading is just a nice idea. Though I don’t agree with your second book. If it’s truly a good book I do think re-reading it should bring depth. Oh wait, I’ve read two books multiples times: The Awakening by Kate Chopin and Heart of Darkness by Conrad. It was worth it.


Oct 04, 2011

This is a nosey question. But, you seem a little non conformist to me in your blog and other little tweets … So, do you ever subconsciously and/or intentionally not read your dads books? And does his view on reading affect yours? Inversely, i mean. The whole “read deeply not broadly” stuff.


Oct 04, 2011

Rebekah, those questions probably require a little bit more thought than a blog comment allows, but here the short answers. I guess I am a non-conformist of a sort. I have read and do read some of my dad’s books, and, over time, they have fallen into the same categories as other books for me. That is to say, I read them if I think I will find them interesting/helpful.

Regarding reading deeply vs. broadly, I think that has alot to do with how you read not how much you read. I’m not sure if my dad and I would agree on that, but he does read novels and poetry along with theology and scholarly works. He also, admittedly, reads really slowly, so a book is more of an investment for him than for me, probably.


Oct 04, 2011

I re read books for a couple of reasons. One some of the books I’ve been attempting to read are way over my head. I need to read again for some comprehension. Second, I’m trying to limit how many books I buy on my kindle so I re read old ones.

I recently re read the first Hardy Boys book and Huck Finn for nostalgia’s sake.


Oct 04, 2011

Do you re-watch movies? Is that different than books?


Oct 04, 2011

I’ll re-watch movies on occasion. I think the primary difference is that I can re-watch a movie in 2 hours, but re-reading a book can take 2 weeks.


Jun 26, 2014

Wasn’t it C.S. Lewis that said we should reread an old book between every new book we read? And isn’t C.S. Lewis always right???
Seriously, I do reread books. I mostly read fiction, so it’s like meeting up with old friends. I often find nuances of story that I missed the first time around, especially if I first read the book as a child (LIttle House series) or young adult (In This House of Brede). I don’t remember non-fiction very well, so rereading a treasured non-fiction book is often like reading it for the first time. I think rereading has much to commend it.


Jun 23, 2016

I do reread, but I understand your points. I linked to this post in my recent disccussion on Rereading.



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