On Re-reading (Again)

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12 November 2011

I’m glad that there’s some buzz about re-reading on the blogs — prompted by Patricia Meyers Spacks‘s recently released On Rereading. A couple of related posts at the Book Bench, and at The Millions.

Teaching has forced me to re-read a number of books and stories – not just twice, but three and four times.  It’s a fortunate convergence of necessity and pleasure.  I suppose the re-reading experience depends highly upon what sort of reader you are the first time around: I consider myself a pretty close, slow reader (as opposed to a skimmer or page-turner), and yet still, re-reading is invariably rewarding and illuminating.  That sounds cliche and predictable, like saying you’ll feel better if you exercise and eat vegetables, but both are still profoundly true.  As a writer, re-reading almost always yields a richer reading experience; I find my admiration for the author deepens as the layers and textures reveal themselves.  Wow, I missed that and that the first time around.  Only occasionally does a book not hold up upon re-reading — which of course makes sense, i.e. we tend to select our re-reads carefully.

I do find it surprising that the further along I am in my reading and writing life (in my life in general is I guess what I ultimately mean), the more open and generous I seem to be as a reader; which is to say that — within a subset of recognized published books — I go in as a student of writing who wants to learn from what other writers are doing and trying (the varying levels of success all equally instructive), and as a person who wants to meet interesting, complex characters who feel, for those x-hundred pages, like real human beings to me.  On the one hand, it’s not much to ask; on the other, if you think about it, and if you’re working at writing yourself, it’s a whole lot.

Is it a “luxury” or an “indulgence” to re-read?  Not an easy question in an era of economic recession, multitasking, and information overload; but the question feels related to that of whether art itself is an indulgent luxury.

My previous thoughts on re-reading here.

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