The Joy of Rereading

Rereading is a joy.  It is perhaps the greatest joy as one gets older.

And yet readers express guilt about rereading. Not I, mind you.  But  in several “Best of the Year” and “Round-up of of the Year” posts,  bloggers and Booktube vloggers admitted sheepishly that one or two of their books were rereads.

This is very sad, because it is so Calvinist. One needn’t forge ahead; one needn’t worry about the number.  The world is not a giant TBR checklist. And yet more and more at Book Riot, Bustle, and other online publications, writers are desperately trying to find ways to meet challenges and Goodreads goals.

I started rereading very young, in the children’s section of the Iowa City public library. How many times did I read Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, Cordelia Jones’s Nobody’s Garden, Philippa Pearce’s Tom’s Midnight Garden, and E. Nesbit’s The Wonderful Garden?  And those are just the garden-themed novels.

In middle age, rereading becomes more delightful.  You are not lost in a book, but you are more observant.  You reimagine  literary landscapes, parse periodic sentences,  thrill to the details of the narrative.   Nineteenth-century writings are especially powerful rereads:   those great writers simply were better-educated than most of our contemporaries.  We imagine George Eliot studying German theology, Trollope writing the Life of Cicero, Harriet Beecher Stowe weaving politics into her  novels, and Thoreau living at Walden as he meditates on transcendentalism.

But I also read and reread less well-known books by Dodie Smith, Pamela Hansford Johnson, Alice Thomas Ellis, Jean Rhys, L. P. Hartley, Molly Keane, and many others. I love mysteries and science fiction. I am a fan of humor writers Cornelia Otis Skinner and Emily Kimbrough.  I draw the line at romance, but you have to draw the line somewhere.

It is such a hectic world: we need to direct our own reading to an extent, instead of worrying about online book groups   or meeting a Goodreads challenge.  Kerry Jarema  at Bustle, in her recent article “9 Unconventional Tips That Will Actually Help You Finish More Books in 2018,”  recommends taking a social media break if you feel “reading pressure.”

Have you read Rereadings:  Seventeen Writers Revisit Books They Love, edited by Anne Fadiman?  It is the perfect book for us rereaders.

And let me know your favorite rereads.

18 thoughts on “The Joy of Rereading

  1. So agree, and I’ve noticed those anti-rereading comments by obsessive book listers. They’re missing a lot. How could you know all the jokes and subtleties of Jane Austen well, for instance, if you didn’t reread? How could you visit your childhood fictional friends?

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    • Yes, especially Jane Austen. I’m still thrilled that you quoted her in that Tea and Tattle podcast. I can’t do that, but I must reread another Austen soon.

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  2. Yes to Jean Rhys.

    And Dorothy Dunnett–I’ve read her Lymond Chronicles twice and then listened to them. I’ve read her Niccolo series once and plan on listening to it next.

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  3. Oddly, two different people have sent me the same comment offlist, in the same words, but with no way to answer directly. It reads: “You might want to go see what they’re up to! Perhaps you will like their blog as much as they liked your comment!” So I will reply to them both here: Blogs are one of the greatest inventions of the late 20th century and beyond. However, I long ago realized that if I tried to read all the interesting and worthwhile blogs written, I would be forever lost in a labyrinth of time taken from the rest of my life. There are so many wonderful people putting out their best thoughts in blogs – sometimes, I even do it myself! So it’s not that I haven’t widely explored the blogosphere, and admire a great many literary minded, artistic, and history-loving folks. I follow the blogs of a few favorites (of whom Kat is one). But if I want to do my own writing, reading, RE-reading (!), traveling, and taking care of my family, I cannot spend more time delving. I have delved for decades!

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    • I agree! It is sad but true that the internet is a problem when one tries to keep up with blogs, comment, like, read everything for online book groups, and still live and read. I know i am missing out on blogs, partly because my bookmarks didn’t come along on my new computer. And then there are all the book review publications. It is too much.

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  4. I was never a rereader. There have just always been more books I wanted to read and I didn’t want to spend time reading books I’d already read. Except for Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, which I’ve read many times. They always make me laugh and remember that life is random and senseless, whether pleasurably or painfully. As I’ve aged and realized I don’t have my whole life before me, and who ever knows how much time they have, I’ve changed my tune. Why not spend the time rereading books I’ve enjoyed?

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