Wednesday 20 April 2011

Do you reread?

Do you reread? I do, but not often; certainly not as often as I did when I was a child. Then, certain favourites would be sure to call to me again and again. I read both Alices on a regular basis (I preferred Looking Glass then, I think because it was more structured, but now I prefer Wonderland, perfect evocation of the wild variety in dreams). I read all the Enid Blyton boarding school books many times over. I read the entire Lord of the Rings about once a year from the time I first read it at 13 until the time before last, in some university holidays, and then again a few years ago, when the films came out and I wanted to see if I could find in it what I had found then (and I did, which was such a relief). I reread Elizabeth Goodge, Barbara Willard, KM Peyton, E Nesbit; if a book was really worth reading once, it was certainly worth another go.

I suppose then, the comfort of familiarity, and the knowledge that the book would be good before I started to read were factors making me want to reread. Also, of course, the fact that all these books were there on my shelves, I didn’t have to go to the effort of discovering something new. It didn’t seem to bother me that I already knew what was going to happen. In fact, the anticipation seemed to add to the pleasure.

It’s different now. I reread far less and when my children ask me ‘what’s your favourite book?’ or even ‘who’s your favourite author?’ I couldn’t possibly answer them, although I certainly could have at any moment of my childhood. Of course, I can’t answer them; I’ve read too many books to make a decision like this, and who knows, the next one I pick up may be my favourite. But also, I no longer get that pure joy, that certainty that feeling that what I am reading is absolutely perfect in every way. I suppose my critical faculties get in the way, so that as well as letting the story into my brain, I am aware of the structure, the vocabulary, the places where the author could have done one thing but chose to do another. That’s not to say that I never reread, and generally I will only keep books that I think I am likely to want to pick up again some day (about 70% of those I buy or am given).

So having said all this, I had a truly perfect rereading experience lately. I was stuck for something to read, and though most of my fiction is STILL in the attic, I do have a couple of shelves of books by my bed that have somehow escaped being boxed up and put away. I picked up The Time-Traveler’s Wife, a book I loved when it first came out. I was slightly dubious about it this time, as a couple of people had told me since that they thought it was trite, so I did wonder if it would stand rereading. Sometimes books are enjoyable the first time but you can’t see it at all when you reread (Captain Correlli’s Mandolin, for example). At first I just opened it randomly and read a few different parts. I was trying to remember how the chronology worked. But in no time, it hooked me, and I started again from the beginning, and then devoured it in a few sittings. It didn’t matter that I knew what was going to happen. Actually the book makes it quite clear from early on that it’s not going to end well. I found myself enjoying it as much as the first time I read it, and maybe even more, because the anticipation added spice to the narrative. The best part was that Robert was out the evening I finished it, so I read the last 50 pages or so, all alone, with tears running down my face. Bliss!


  1. I never stop reading Moby-Dick. Once I finish, I start again. Most Perfect Book Ever.

    I was looking at The Little White Horse in a booshop the other day, but it hasn't got the illustations any more. Where have the illustrations gone?! Didn't buy it for that reason alone.

  2. I've never read Moby-Dick. Everyone who has read it tells me I should, but I can't get my head round the idea. And it's so BIG; such commitment...

    Think they might have removed the illustrations whent hey made useless movie 'The Secret of Moonacre'. You must be able to get it with them.

  3. But are there not positive reasons for re-reading? As opposed to the generally 'damned by faint praise' or negative ones that you give - 'familiarity', 'knowledge that it would be good' etc?

    People talk about rewatching films and seeing things in them that they didn't get the first time - 'The Usual Suspects' is the sort of film I'm thinking of. Does the same not apply for books?

  4. sbl- don't think my reasons are negative. Familiarity is a quality I enjoy in most things, and it is very disheartening to read a book and find it is not good, so to know that one is to enjoy it when embarking on it adds to the enjoyments, I think.

    Also I don't think you watch The Usual Suspects a second time in order to get it; you watch it to find out if there are clues to the final twist sewn in throughout the film! Of course this may be why you reread a book, but I think it's more about reading more closely, savouring bits you might have missed, going over the bits you really enjoyed with more attention.


What do you think?