Recently I’ve had a conversation with a couple different people about the merits of re-reading books. It seems that there are some people who are avid re-readers. They find a certain reading richness in digging into the same books over and over again. Re-reading is a foreign world for me.
I don’t re-read books. This isn’t a commitment I’ve made. It’s just the way I tick. I’ve never sworn off re-reading as a poor idea, and I understand why some people value it highly. In fact, I often find myself saying “I should really read that book again” when a book comes up in conversation that I enjoyed once upon a time. But I don’t ever actually re-read them.
I don’t re-read for two main reasons.
There are too many books in the world to read the same one twice (or more). As Tony Reinke says in his book Lit! (paraphrased), we only have one life to live and chance to live it. He is referring to reading intentionally, and I find my intention being to absorb as many good books as possible. It’s a compulsion to find the next good book, to absorb the knowledge it offers, to soak in the creativity and beauty within, and then do it all over again with the next book.
The second reason is of a totally different nature. I am afraid to re-read books. I am afraid of a let-down, a disappointment. Being moved by a book is a powerful experience, life-altering in some cases. Being enlightened by a book is a light so bright it is seared in memory. These feelings are so strong it is a scary thing to consider re-engaging the place from which they came. What if it isn’t as good as I recall? What if what moved me the first time seems trite this time? Books that have changed me intersected with my life at just such a time as to affect me, but what it this second intersection is the wrong time and there is no second effect?
I don’t know that my take on this one is the best one, or even if it’s right at all. To me, though, reading has a certain exploratory, adventurous aspect to it. I love the thrill of the hunt for another good book and all the wonders it holds. While I don’t disparage re-reading, I think it sets the horizons for reading so low if it is the primary means of choosing a book.
What do you think? Is my thinking off on this one?