I don’t re-read a lot of non-fiction, but I have read An Experiment in Criticism by C.S. Lewis 6 times. I first read this dense little book in February, 2000. The last time I read it was in March of 2010. I’m about due for another reading I think.
It seems appropriate that I re-read this particular essay frequently, as it is a book that talks about re-reading as a sign of a work’s literary value. If a book can sustain a re-reading, it is probably good literature. (I’m summarizing. Obviously.) Lewis points out that people re-read books for different reasons, but suggests that a book evokes a world for the reader. If the reader wants to return to that world, they re-read the book. This may be true for narrative works as they clearly build imaginary worlds for readers. But what about non-narrative works? Why would we re-read them?
I re-read non-fiction books that have no narrative thread because they make me think. The work illuminates something about the world I live in that attracts me back to it. In that sense I make the book a part of my own narrative, a part of my own thinking. As I read and re-read it, it becomes more imbedded in my story, in my thought.
I also re-read because of memories associated with reading a particular book. I remember one reading of An Experiment in Criticism particularly. I didn’t have my own copy of the book yet, so I had a hardback library copy. One cold winter afternoon, I sat in a wood-panelled reading room next to the (fake) fire in a wing chair and savoured a part of Lewis’s essay. A friend of mine was also reading in the same room in a matching wing chair next to the (still fake) fire. She’d not heard of this particular book before, and so I introduced her to it. She later read it. When I look at my own copy of the book, a paperback re-print, I still think of holding the worn library hardcover and sitting in that chair that afternoon. The book evokes a particular memory of a happy occasion when I enjoyed it. I look forward to re-reading the book and building another memory of enjoying it.
Why do you re-read? Or do you just read something once and then its finished?