Books / Memoir / Non-Fiction

On Rereading

I have always been a consummate rereader. As the years pass, however, I have begun to feel a bit guilty about it. With college, then graduate school, my time for free reading dropped drastically, while my “to read” list grew exponentially. Going back to old favorites in the few precious moments I had for recreational reading made me twinge subconsciously. Was I lazy? I had never thought seriously about rereading, however, until I saw Patricia Meyer Spacks’s book On Rereading at Barnes and Noble.

Instantly intrigued, I added the book to my list. A cross between an accessible non-fiction study on rereading and a memoir of one English professor’s personal rereading project, On Rereading was eye-opening and incredibly insightful.

Spacks asks a number of questions about rereading: what compels us to reread books? Why are certain books reread, like Pride and Prejudice or Alice and Wonderland, and not others? Why do children ask to be read the same book night after night? And, why do adults return to books they read as children?

Spacks theorizes that people reread books as part of a personal quest for self-knowledge. Returning to books we loved brings into sharp relief the tension between stability and change in our lives and our selves.

A book you once enjoyed, upon rereading, can prove insipid or still inspire the same adoration it did when you read it for the first time.

After reading On Rereading, I’m thoroughly convinced that there is more to rereading books than one would initially suspect. Rereading is about more than security or nostalgia. This made me feel a bit better about my own rereading habits.

At the same time, On Rereading left me feeling a bit sheepish and stereotypical. In her introduction, Spacks cites a study of the most reread literary works (5). The top three most reread books–the Harry Potter series, The Lord of the Rings, and Pride and Prejudice are all works I have and continue to reread personally. Yet, I felt a little better as I considered all of the other books that I reread: Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, the Tamora Pierce books, Mansfield Park, The Chronicles of Narnia, and To Kill a Mockingbird, among others.

What books do you reread?


~ Michelle


6 thoughts on “On Rereading

  1. This is so interesting as I am someone who doesn’t reread and I just reread a book to see how I felt about it many years after, particularly as it is the book I mention when asked to name a favourite book.

    I do reread passages in books from a writing perspective, but even as a writer, I am more interested in absorbing new uses of language, ways of expressing ideas, so I’d rather read another book by the same author than go back. Although I did enjoy reading the book the second time, I had to shake off the initial feeling of wasting my time, because the learning had already been done, because for me reading is as much about the learning as it is about the pleasure of a good story. I want to know that there is the likelihood of a new word, an apt metaphor, an illuminating passage, a page that requires rereading, something to surprise me perhaps, and although we can appreciate these things a second time round for sure, I was plagued initially with the fear of it not living up to my own expectations. It did, but I don’t like the feeling of starting out with a book feeling like that, I’m all for the unknown, the promise of something different, whatever that turns out to be.

    But I’m really happy to have the recommendations of others of their favourite rereads, because I may not have read it, and that’s what excites me!

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