Readers--not the casual readers, but the committed, obsessed, relentless readers--have a few little testy points of contention that seems to get repetitively rehashed: some readers write in their books compulsively, while others like a pristine page; some readers use bookmarks, while others dog-ear pages (this is sacrilege to some!). One of those divisive issues is rereading. Let me now confess: I scribble madly in my books, guiltily dog-ear pages (only on desperate occasions, but I do it), and I am an obsessive rereader. To some readers this is just a foolish waste of time. So many books, so little time! But nothing gives me deeper pleasure than rereading, sometimes for the fifth or even the tenth time, a beloved book. And rereading usually leads to excessive underlining, scribbling, and spine-cracking.
When I reread a book, I encounter that book as an older, somewhat different person. Middlemarch, one of my most frequently reread books, is quite a different experience for this older, twice-married mother and teacher from the Middlemarch I read as a college junior. Likewise, the relatively innocent high school me had quite a different take on Dostoyevsky's The Idiot from the grown-up, somewhat more jaded me of two years ago. And some books (The Great Gatsby) I've read so many times that now I just pick them up and wander around in them, like a visitor to a house I've been to many times. I don't always go in the front door, and I don't always read to the end.
Why do I reread? I honestly don't think I can fully appreciate any book on just one reading. Not every book merits a rereading, and I certainly don't have the time or the inclination to reread every book that I like or even love. But if a book is truly great, or if it truly speaks to me on the most personal level (or both), then I want to reread that book so that I can get the most possible from that book. This all probably reflects something about my personality and my temperament as well. And being a teacher, I often have to read a book more than once (I always reread a book when I am teaching it). Since I have some choice in what I teach, I will often choose to teach a book I love (Gatsby), and end up reading that book over and over before I'm ready to move on to something else in my curriculum and my life.
Here's a partial list of books I've read at least two or three times. Some I've read five or six or a dozen times.... One star indicates I've read the book at least three times, two stars means at least four....
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte *
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert *
Middlemarch by George Eliot **
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen *
Emma by Jane Austen
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley *
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston **
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald **
The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee **
Inferno by Dante Alighieri
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner **
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner **
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Sula by Toni Morrison
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Black Boy by Richard Wright
Grendel by John Gardner
The Narrative of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass
Here's a list of books I already know I must reread:
Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
The Border Trilogy by Cormac McCarthy
Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell
A Seahorse Year by Stacey D'Erasmo
What's your stance on rereading? Do you have a favorite book that you have read over and over again? Or do you think life is too short for rereading?