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To Re-Read or Not to Re-Read?

“I can’t imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once.” —C.S. Lewis

girl deciding whether to re-read a book
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  • Photo Credit: Becca Tapert / Unsplash

I was minding my own business (really, I was!) at the pool this past summer soaking up the sun and watching my kids frolic in the water when I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation about books. Naturally, my bookworm antennae went up as they do anytime anything book-related happens around me and I listened in.

“What are you reading lately?” said the woman beside me, who I decided I already liked based on the fact that she assumed everyone was reading something all the time.

“Actually, I’m reading Moby Dick again,” replied the man who had stopped by the woman’s chair after recognizing her as his son’s classmate’s mom.

“Really? For fun?” she continued, echoing exactly what I was thinking.

“Well, yeah. I just thought I might appreciate it more,” said the man nonchalantly.

“I don’t think I’ve ever read a book more than once,” I said, accidentally inserting myself into their conversation as I realized I had stated that thought aloud.

As their conversation somewhat awkwardly continued from there (without me), I was left thinking about the idea of re-reading a book. I really haven’t re-read a book after finishing it. Well, in full transparency, that’s not true. I haven’t voluntarily re-read a book. I was forced to read Crime and Punishment twice due to it being a part of both my high school curriculum and my college Eastern European lit class. And I really do like that work but for the sake of this article, we are going to focus on choosing to re-read a piece.

This question of re-reading is yet another fracture in the booknerd world. I’ve already done the run down on the thought process of skipping to the end of a book by some book lovers. Now I have to tackle this issue, so let’s get into it!

meryl streep reading in the devil wears prada
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  • Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox

Re-Watching Movies

So, if you know me, you know that I brake hard for the movie The Devil Wears Prada, based on the book, by the way. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen it, mainly because I’ve not really watched it from start to finish over and over again so much as just picking up from where the movie is on the channel. Even if it was in the middle or a quarter way through or nearly finished.  I find it highly entertaining and perhaps, comforting. I may have it on as background noise or as the main event if I can’t find anything new to watch. Am I alone in this?

Related: The 21 Best Movies Based on Books

Anyway, I don’t do the same with books. Don’t get me wrong. It isn’t that I don’t have easy access to my past reads. I tend to keep my books. (Cough, hoarder, cough, you may be thinking, and rightly so.) I could re-read any book very easily. In fact, I have been known to walk slowly past my bookshelves (plural) and lovingly run my fingertips across the spines of some particular favorites. TMI?

But I don’t pick them up to re-read.

What Is Reading For?

I realize that we will not be able to cover all the merits of reading, tangible and intangible, in one sitting. However, it is important to excavate the motivation behind reading in order to understand the act of re-reading. 

Again, we will leave the reading for academic credit or for the job or any external motivator out of consideration. The focus is on re-reading by choice. That takes out the reason for reading being to educate oneself by delving into self-help books, how-to guides or any of those other “dummy” books. Those are reference books and by definition, will be referred back to at some point.

Let’s talk about reading for pleasure. Reading to escape. Reading to be thrilled. Reading to connect. Reading to soothe. These are reasons that generally speak to our individual choices for picking up a certain book at a certain time. Our mood and our environment or season may have a large role to play in why we read what we read. And when we consider the variables in which we choose to read a certain book, perhaps a book we have already read is just as equal a choice as a new one.

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  • Photo Credit: "Pride & Prejudice" (2005), via Focus Features

Choosing What to Read

How am I feeling? What is going on around me? What do I want out of this book? These and more questions go into deciding your next read. We just don’t realize the computations going on in our head and the illogical emotional component coming from our heart that can steer us to pick a work.

Take the guy at the pool deciding to re-read Moby Dick. He may have, as he said, believed he'd get more out of reading it as this stage in his life. He may have found some time to peruse it during the summer as a father at the pool that he never would have in the autumn or as a teenager. He may have remembered enjoying it but didn't remember the details, prompting him to revisit it. 

He may even have found nostalgia in re-reading a passage that took him, for a moment, back to his childhood bedroom reading that same passage for the first time on his bed surrounded by posters of Mötley Crüe and Cindy Crawford on his walls. (I’m guessing, I didn’t stalk him. I promise.)

Re-reading may provide a familiarity and security that reading for the first time can never do. It offers the opportunity to peel back the layers beyond the superficial and get into the themes and larger messages of the book. Or it allows for the soaking up of details and noticing foreshadowing that may have been missed the first time. 

It also may allow for a respite, like watching a favorite movie. Not having to work out the tension points and just being able to flow like being on a tube on a lazy river—it may not be exciting, but it's pretty sweet nonetheless.

Not For Moi

Okay. I’ve made the case for re-reading and I understand it a little better. And here’s where the but comes in. But re-reading isn’t for me. Why? I think it has to do with the fact that when I turn on a familiar movie, it isn’t really to watch it. It keeps me company and lets me zone out.

But I want more from my reading. I want to be entertained and surprised and that can’t be fully accomplished (for me) if I already know the details of the story I’m reading. I’m out to conquer as many new stories as I can. Goodness knows that there are plenty books out there to choose from and I’m so behind!

To each their own. I don’t re-read, but I get it. What about you? Do you re-read for pleasure? Or is your motto “Too many books, not enough time?”

Featured photo: Becca Tapert / Unsplash