My Twitter timeline today contained a link to a blog post by Leigh Kramer, on the topic of re-reading books, and this has inspired my own comments here. It was a sad day for me when I realised that I would never have time to read all the books that I might ever want to; so why do I spend time (waste time?) re-reading books that I have already read?
For me, there are two main reasons for re-reading. One is for comfort; there are several books that I read and re-read purely for pleasure, or when my ME brain is not up to taking in anything new that I really have to concentrate on. These books include the Harry Potter series, the Discworld books of Terry Pratchett, Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”; some classics such as “Pride and Prejudice” and “Barchester Towers”; books about ME like “The State of Me” by Nasim Marie Jafry”; the ‘Smiley’ novels of John le Carre; even children’s books like “Winter Holiday”, part of the ‘Swallows and Amazons’ series by Arthur Ransome; and miscellaneous one-offs like “The Queen’s Gambit” by Walter Tevis, “Possession”, the Booker prize-winning novel by A. S. Byatt, and “The Book of Ebenezer Le Page” by G. B. Edwards.
I know these stories very well, and can simply take pleasure in watching them unfold again and again. They are old friends, and don’t demand too much of my brain or concentration. I have some of them in both printed form and electronically, so I can take them with me wherever I go.
The other reason I re-read books, especially new books, is because of a theory I have about what makes a ‘good’ book. To decide this, I think that you need to read a book three times, at least.
The first time, the book is new: you don’t know the story, you don’t know the characters, you don’t know what’s going to happen. You may have heard something about it, or know other books by the same author; or maybe you’ve seen a film or TV version, but don’t know all the details. The book is then something new, something to discover.
The second time is when you start to see the connections that were obscure before: for example, something might happen early in the book but is not explained until later. On a second reading you start to say, “so that’s what was going on when he said that, or she did that”.
The third time, you already know these connections, although there may still be things to discover. But if you can still read the same book with pleasure and enjoyment, than the book is a good one; and may even join my list of books to read and re-read over again.