Sunday, February 28, 2010

50 Books Reprise

Well, that was one of the worst new year's resolutions ever. I can't believe there was a time when I used to update this site every day. Holy crap.

So I was looking at the growing stack of completed books beside my bed and realized that every single one of them is a re-read. And I realized that, not only do I seem to be unwittingly reading only books I've read before, but I have no desire to read something new. What's the deal with this?

I'm not concerned about it or anything, mind you. In fact, I'm kind of embracing it. I've always been a re-reader. Up until a few years ago, I had always assumed that anyone who reads a lot – and who values good books – must also re-tread a lot of bookish ground. I was surprised to learn that, in fact, I'm the oddity.

I re-read for a lot of reasons. The fact that I have a terrible memory is a big one. I have to read a book at least twice for the ending to stick, and I can be just as shocked by sudden plot twists the third time around as I was the first and second. (Note: This also happens to me in real life.)

Comfort is another big reason. Like most of you (I'm guessing), there are times when I read prescriptively. I'm blue, so I need some P.G. Wodehouse. I'm blah, so I need some Tolkien. Etcetera. The older I get, the better I am at assessing my mental state and writing out a little literary Rx for what ails me. This is an unanticipated benefit of aging, and one that I'm grateful for. Hopefully it will prevent me from ever stumbling again as catastrophically as I did during The Already Horrible November During Which I Read The Death of Ivan Ilych and Got Even More Depressed. (My man Rusty remembers this as The Month I Found Doppelganger Hiding Under the Bed and Had to Poke Her Out With a Broom.)

But comfort and addled brains aside, I love re-reading books because they serve as benchmarks for me. I remember that I first read Pride and Prejudice when I was seventeen, the same age as Elizabeth Bennett. She seemed impossibly alien to me then. I've read Pride and Prejudice, oh, about ten or so times since then, and the older I get, the more I understand Elizabeth. And dear god, now that I have kids, I'm even starting to get Mrs. Bennett. Help me.

The Pride and Prejudice I read twenty-three years ago is a completely different novel from the one I read last year. I can't imagine what it will become in the decades ahead. This is terribly exciting to me.

I think any book truly worth reading once is worth reading again and again. So I've decided that this year, barring any encounters with brand-new books I must read, will be the year that I try to re-read fifty of the best books I can remember (ha!) reading over the past decades. Exciting!

Coming up next: The Hobbit.

23 comments:

Michelle said...

I had always assumed everyone re-read as much as I did. Otherwise what's the purpose of buying books? Your prescription metaphor is spot-on. I might have to use that explanation from now on. After many times through Pride and Prejudice, I finally purchased the annotated version by David Shapard. I loved it! It brought yet another version of the story to me.

Shona said...

I love to reread, and like you I have my regulars which come out every year or two: Austen, Tolkien, Le Guin (and I can't wait until the kids are old enough for me to read The Hobbit to them).

Ha, I'm amused that you're starting to sympathise with Mrs Bennet. I was pretty horrified recently to watch E.T. and realise I identified with Eliot's mother!

Karalynn said...

I love to re-read some of my books. I read pretty fast, so every time I read it I get something else out of it. I also forget that I have read books and have bought some twice, and only vaguely noticed that the book seemed familiar. I guess I read a little too fast!

I'd say that my favourite book to re-read is Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. I lent it out and never got it back, and then actually bought a new copy so I could read it some more.

My stepson says he doesn't understand re-reading, but only reads brand new copies of books. I asked "Why do you insist on buying all of your books, then?" He won't get books from the library because "that's gross". Apparently he is a millionaire. And wildly misinformed about how the majority of the pandemics in history have been caused by libraries.

He will, however, re-watch movies hundreds of times, while I will rarely watch a movie twice, or even buy one, unless it is for my daughter. Shrek, I must have seen about 25 times! Especially when the bird blows up. Kids love that part.

Tigerlily said...

I agree, what's the point of buying a book if it's only going to sit on the shelf and never be opened again? Especially when the book is a paperback. Re-reading a favorite book is a great way to improve my mood, or to wallow in depression if I so choose!

Re-reading is the primary reason why I do not plan to buy a Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader, or similar in the near future. I only buy about ten books a year, but I read just over one hundred a year. About half to two thirds of those are books that I own that I've already read several times, the rest come from the library. With such a low percentage of book buying, a Kindle etc. is just not cost effective, at least until I can borrow e-books from the library as easily as "real" books.

Many books need to be re-read just to pick up on little details that seem random the first time around and completely vital to the story once you know how they fit in at the end. Good Omens is a great example of this. Like all of Pratchett and Gaiman's work, I get so many more references that I missed the first time, or just did not understand but now do thanks to the year I lived in England.

Re-readers unite!

Anonymous said...

It's great to have you back, Doppleganger. I don't care how often you post! I always enjoy reading your thoughts on books and book-related topics.

landismom said...

I re-read much less these days, since I have so much less reading time. But I agree--what's the point of buying books if you're not going to re-read them?

Danae said...

Greetings from Australia!

I am so glad to see you've updated! I used to read your blog all the time, and have you to thank for introducing me to some of my now favourite authors (like Douglas Coupland). I've really missed your updates, so coming here and seeing a whole lot of new updates has made my day!!

Sarah in Ottawa said...

I am re-reading P&P right now! I am a HUGE re-reader, too. There's nothing like wrapping oneself up in the comfort of familiar, well-loved words. I also re-read children's lit. For you, it's Laura Ingalls Wilder; for me, it's Maud (and Anne) all the way.

I hate to be total wonder killer because I, too, first read P&P at 17 but -- Elizabeth Bennet is 20 during the novel. She tells Lady Catherine Debourgh "I am not yet one-and-twenty", and Kitty declares herself "...two years older" than 15 year old Lydia. With Mary in between Kitty and Elizabeth, she has to be at least that age for the spacing of the Bennet girls to make sense.

Meaghan said...

I am also an avid re-reader. Nice to see you back on your blog.. going to stick around this time? I used to read your blog way back when... I miss your book reviews!

ConnieGirl said...

Hey, I just found your blog and am really enjoying it! We just launched a book review blog as well -- you should check it out if you get a chance: thebluebookcase.blogspot.com. It's brand new so still a work in progress, but if you like it, we could exchange links on each other's sites.

And I wish I had time to re-read books! I also have a horrible memory, so re-reads feel like a first-time read most of the time!

ConnieGirl said...

ps - shoot me an email at dearconnie89@gmail.com if you want to do the link exchange.

Chioma said...

I'm glad you're coming back!

Anil P said...

I like to re-read as well, only selected authors, like Joseph Mitchell, Kuralt among others.

Like you rightly said, the same book connects differently as years pass.

argumentics said...

Besides two or three books which really deserved it (which is why I'm not going to praise them, 'cause they're kinda secret), I never ever ever re-read. I think it is a very healthy reading habit - the idea that you will never go back to this book. Ever.

aditi said...

Hey great blog...very true about re-reading. Enid Blyton brings back childhood memories, Anne of Green Gables series is evergreen...
I esp like to take some fav book with me when going away from home, feel less alone then..
Till now I hadn't thought about age changing our perspective...but that makes sense...till now I thought that it just took me more read to see different perspectives, but situations and age also matter.

lesbrary said...

I love re-reading. I, too, have a terrible memory, so I'm getting my girlfriend to read my favourites and she keeps telling me about parts I'd completely forgotten about! I actually feel guilty that I don't re-read my favourites enough.

I hope you post some of your re-reading experiences; I love your blog.

Tahlia said...

Yeah good blog. Keep it up.

The only books I re read are ones that are really enjoyable, meaning that the overall atmosphere is something I want to go back into. Some books I consider great, I wouldn't want to read again because the overall atmosphere is painful.

Check out ch 1 of my new YA fantasy novel, 'Lethal Inheritance' on http://publishersearch.wordpress.com. You might like it.

Medi said...

The best books will always be re-read and this is a sign of a quality author.

Booksman said...

I re-read much less these days, since I have so much less reading time. But I agree--what's the point of buying books if you're not going to re-read them?

Media said...

Hey great blog...very true about re-reading. Enid Blyton brings back childhood memories, Anne of Green Gables series is evergreen...
I esp like to take some fav book with me when going away from home, feel less alone then..
Till now I hadn't thought about age changing our perspective...but that makes sense...till now I thought that it just took me more read to see different perspectives, but situations and age also matter. (My Books)

Tahlia said...

I agree. The really good books you want to read again, especially the ones that are moving (I call it the M factor - did a post on it on my blog).

A book only gets 5/5 from me if it's one I want to read again.

~T said...

I haven't done much re-reading of books I own because there seems to be a purpetual stack of books that i haven't read. Before my latest book buying hold I bought books faster than I could read them. It is hard to resist a library sale at $1 per pound. But I have re-read a number of the classics from high school, again as an adult. Amazing the difference in perspective from them!

Em said...

I completely agree with your post. I love to re read books but most people think I'm mad because I am reading a book again. For me I always get something new out of a book by reading it again.