Re-reading, another view

I read an article on re-reading books in the Globe and Mail last weekend with interest. Few people write about their long-term relationships with books. Immediate impressions, passing potshots, or rave reviews seem more the norm for book bloggers and book columnists. I started this blog last fall with a discussion of books I’ve re-read. My own preference for books that carry the weight of re-reading comes from reading and re-reading An Experiment in Criticism by C.S. Lewis. Lewis contends that any book can be read once, but to attract a reader back for a second look means the book asks something more than just consumption from the reader. It encourages good reading. Lewis suggested we judge books by what kind of reading they encourage.

Joe Queenan describes the books that he re-reads. Some, he finds, always give off an aura of greatness, and the impression he has of reading them does not change. They are always good, always savoured. Other books improve on re-reading as different aspects of their greatness are highlighted and as one gains life experience. Some books don’t survive re-readings. He suggests SciFi doesn’t survive re-reading, but he’s never tried. I beg to differ.

Queenan’s re-reading list is different than mine, but I’ve also found that returning to a book that blew me away earlier can be a disappointment (recent personal example: Starship Trooper by Robert Heinlein). On the other hand re-reading something I struggled to get through the first time, and finding that it is much better than I remember is a great pleasure (personal examples: Pride and Prejudice, and Cryptonomicon). Other times I’m just looking for a comfortable re-read, a pleasant visit with old friends in familiar places (personal example: most Maeve Binchy titles). Queenan doesn’t mention comfort as a reason to re-read books. I find that interesting.

Why do you re-read books? Or do you? Why not?

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