By November 12, 2011 0 Comments Read More →

On Rereadings

I’ve just enjoyed a fine essay on the pleasures and perils of re-reading at The Millions and I’m thinking about how re-reading applies to book groups. Personally, I know that if the group selects a book that I have read previously for discussion, I’ll often take it as a free pass, using my time to read a new book instead of re-reading the old one, relying on my memory to get me through the discussion. Perhaps this is a mistake.

There are many reasons to re-read: for instance, to give a book a second chance that we weren’t prepared for the first time; to enjoy the security and warmth of re-encountering an old friend; to gain a greater depth or insight in our understanding of a particularly rewarding work; or to confirm that a book was as good as a vague memory tells us it was. Which of these reasons are enough to motivate each of us to re-read is an interesting question, and worth exploring in a book group, particularly in long-established groups where part of the pleasure is knowing the habits of each of our fellow readers closely.

To that end, I’ve suggested in this space before that a meeting dedicated to the art of re-reading can be enjoyable, and further, that you might want to go so far as to specify the purpose of the re-reading: something you didn’t like the first time, something you liked but can’t recall in detail, something that you find comforting, something that elicited strong emotions, and so on.

Another possibility might be to try literary criticism as an entry point into a discussion of rereading. Lisa Levy’s essay on The Millions recommends the Anne-Fadiman-edited Rereadings: Seventeen Writers Revisit Books They Love, but when you think about it, most criticism–and particularly the laudatory kind–is based in the kind of close reading that can only come with multiple visit to the same work. If you can find a writer who really extols the joys of a particular novel or story, chances are multiple re-readings took place.

In this world where we all feel so much pressure to move on in our search for the next great thing, it would behoove us all to occasionally take time instead to go even deeper into the pleasures of works that we already know are rewarding.

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

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