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To Reread or not to Reread?

March 17, 2011

I find people generally fall into one of two camps on the issue of rereading books. Some people love to do it. Others refuse to reread a book they’ve already read once.

I’m in the first category. There are books I have read so many times that I’ve lost count. Obviously, there are  gaps in between readings, but there are some books I’ve read over and over again for years. In fact, I just finished one, which is why it was on my mind today.

If you haven’t read Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris, I would recommend you do. It deviates from her usual plot and setting, and that is a very, very good thing. This novel is the kind of book that has to be reread. While the powerful characterization is obvious the first time through, it’s the truly, superbly, masterful plotting that bears a second look.

Well-crafted plots please me. I don’t say that flippantly; they please me in the gut-level way that perfectly aged wine pleases some people, or a flawless musical execution pleases others. The first time I reread Gentlemen and Players, it was to rip away the curtain and say, “Oh! OH! I see now! I see how you played on my assumptions! That’s so clever!” The second time, I noticed even more subtle foreshadowing. The third, some insights about the characters came to the forefront. On this umpteenth reading, I found myself really picking up on thematic issues, and re-appreciating the book all over again for the way she wove theme and (twisty, devilish) plot together.

Some of the joy of rereading comes from you: the reader. Between readings, you mature and gain new experiences, which colour the way you read the work. This is particularly true of children’s literature. I’ll never forget the first time I looked up from a Narnia book saying, “Wait… I think Aslan is Jesus!” If you never reread, you miss out on these extra levels of understanding and meaning, layers which enrich the book immeasurably.

Of course, these levels can only exist if the author put them in. Like cakes, onions, and ogres, good books have layers. A book with only a surface narrative and nothing underneath will understably not be as much fun to reread as one with a lot of stuff going on under the surface: stuff which takes longer and requires more knowledge to become apparent. This means that while the reader’s maturation adds to the rereading fun, the author has to make their contribution as well.

You don’t have to write the most complicated book in the world. Relatively simple stories can have a lot of “depth.” And “depth” isn’t always philosophical (though it can be- think of Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist). Look at Harry Potter. When you go through the early books, seemingly innocuous acts and comments take on new signficance as you finally recgonize them for what they are: Rowling carefully sowing the seeds of the series’s conclusion.

And I think it is about care. When authors put care into their work, really thinking about it and feeling it all for themselves, it does flow in a subtle current beneath the story at the surface. And the sense that it’s there, beneath us, and the desire to see it and confirm our suspicions, leads to the rereads.

-Arvik

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4 comments

  1. I have reread many books and I know exactly what you mean.


  2. I make a point of rereading books I think are well written, as much to study how they did it as to enjoy the story again.


  3. Rereading books is almost as good as reading the book the first time. Some books just beg to be reread…like Harry Potter. Or The Phantom of the Opera. Or Les Miserables. Or…you get the idea. Great post!


  4. The first book that taught me this was “Watership Down.” I’ve read it at least once a year since I was eleven, sometimes turning from the last page to the first to start again immediately. With books that are worthy of multiple readings, I find new revelations and old pleasures each time.



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