The Joy of Re-Reading

I have piles and piles of books that I need to read, but still I find myself going back to books I have read a million times. Dan Savage’s Savage Love: Straight Answers from America’s Most Popular Sex Columnist is one of my favorite bedtime books – I’ve read all the questions and answers a hundred time and they still make me laugh. I regularly re-read mysteries and detective novels, even though I already know whodunit. As a kid, I read Tolkein’s famous trilogy every summer, usually sitting in a tree or on a swing at the park.

While I love the adventure of a new book, I also enjoy the familiarity of going back to an old favorite – that’s why I was especially pleased by the article in Friday’s New York Times: Some Thoughts on the Pleasures of Being a Re-Reader. This paragraph really struck home for me:

Part of the fun of re-reading is that you are no longer bothered by the business of finding out what happens. Re-reading “Middlemarch,” for instance, or even “The Great Gatsby,” I’m able to pay attention to what’s really happening in the language itself — a pleasure surely as great as discovering who marries whom, and who dies and who does not.

Sometimes I get so caught up in finding out what happens, getting to the end, guessing the identity of the murderer, that I don’t take time to really enjoy the story. Re-reading gives me the chance to enjoy all of the book – the language, the subplots, even the descriptions I skimmed over the first time.

Another part that resonated with me was this:

The real secret of re-reading is simply this: It is impossible. The characters remain the same, and the words never change, but the reader always does.

Recently, I was having an online conversation with friends about re-reading books we had loved as children and how different they appear. It really is true that the way we feel about a book changes as we change. I know that I have come away with very different feelings about a book, reading it as an adult and as a child. And as our perceptions change, so do out opinions: over time, I became really irritated with the Lord of the Rings trilogy. When I was younger, I loved all the dashing, heroic men (and elves) in the story. As I grew older, I began to notice that the women in the story didn’t really get to do much. (Of course, when the movies came out, I was back to appreciating all the handsome men!)

So, what about you – do you re-read favorite books? Have you found your appreciation for them changing over the years?

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