Thursday, 26 April 2012


Coming late to books (mid-twenties), I didn’t imagine I’d ever read something more than once. What was the point? There was so much else to get around to it would have (I assumed) that desultory feeling you get of staying in a relationship you know is long dead. Books, I rationalized, weren’t the same as films or music, which warrant (particularly the latter) unceasing revisits, the experience often enhanced each subsequent time. But, I discovered, the familiarity can breed, not contempt, but a mollifying joy, where each beautifully wrought sentence is savoured, delighted in, the knowledge of what’s to come paradoxically suspenseful. Fresh interpretations are made. Allegorical echoes, previously missed, resound like an encounter with a long-lost friend or lover that you wonder how you’d managed without. New meaning is discovered.

Of course, very few books deserve a second read. Many don’t deserve a first. But how wonderful to know they are there, forever willing to share a precious couple of weeks in our company whenever we choose.

I think I’ll always come back to this, and certainly this. And Tartt’s The Secret History, Irving’s Garp, Coetzee’s Disgrace. And a handful of others. I might even gorge myself again on a bit of Shriver’s Kevin.

So, which, if any, books do you read more than once? And why? Does a book change if the readings are, say, thirty years apart?


Jen Campbell said...

I seem to reread Alice every year. I don't know if that's just a comfort thing, but I always read it and want to go play around with language afterwards.

His Dark Materials is another one I revist; it's so intricate that you always notice something new.

Ali Smith's short stories also get rereads... they're just so beauitful!

Ruth Horowitz said...

Growing up, there were a few novels I just kept on reading over and over again -- Charlotte's Web, A Wrinkle in Time, To Kill a Mockingbird. As an adult, I feel the way you do -- that there are just too many good books I haven't read for me to spend my time re-reading. That said, I have returned to some of the Jane Austens, to Updike's Rabbit books, and to Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse.

Joanne said...

I've read Persuasion I don't know how many times since I was 18. Every five years or so the meaning changes for me - it's become so much more poignant as I've aged, where it used to be pure romance.

Authors I've re-read: Haruki Murakami, David Mitchell, Raymond Carver, Margaret Atwood, Helen Simpson, Nicola Barker. Just for the joy of their sentences usually, but I get sucked in and carry on to the end of whatever I've picked up.

And those are just the ones I picked up from the shelves I can see. Turns out I re-read a lot more than I thought.

Annalisa Crawford said...

I currently have The Rendezvous by Daphne du Maurier by my bed - because they are short stories I might be reading this book forever, just going around and around.

I agree with Jen, too, Ali Smith's short stories are wonderful.

Paul Lamb said...

I've read Philip Roth's novel The Ghost Writer perhaps twenty times. A year or so goes by and I feel the need to visit it again. It seems that each time, I pick up some nuance I had missed in all of my other readings. I think it's as close to a perfectly realized novel as I have ever read. It's certainly a book for (and about) writers. Of course this may be a sign of how dim I am, but I like to think that it is really a sign of the richness of the work.

I've only read Moby Dick three times, and that barely seems like a beginning. I'm itching to read the Maqroll novellas of Alvaro Mutis again. Some of Sue Hubbell's nonfiction has earned repeated readings by me.

Your comparison to music, which we might listen to hundreds of times and still get satisfaction, is apt. Thanks for this fine post.

dan powell said...

Like you, Tom, I am a big fan of Garp. In fact I have re-read both Garp and A Prayer for Owen Meany more than once.

I reread Treasure Island once every few years or so since my first encounter with it at eight years old. The last rereading of Stevenson's classic was just before Easter. I read it to my two boys and fell for it all over again through their eyes.

I have a reread shelf now too, books I plan to reread. Most recently read additions to the shelf are Jim Crace's Being Dead, Jackie Kay's Trumpet and Maggie Gee's The White Family.

Shriver's Kevin is a powerful and challenging read that I was in awe of when I read it. Not sure I want to re-read it though. It was almost too painful to read the first time.

Carys said...

I cried all the way through the last part of 'We Need to Talk about Kevin' - I can't remember the last time a book did that me - by the time I put it down I was exhausted. I found it brilliant and terrifying, although like Dan, I'm not sure if I want to read it again.

I've read 'The Stone Diaries' a couple of times because I love Carol Shields' prose. This year I've reread big chunks of 'The Lonely Polygamist' and I can see myself rereading 'Caribou Island' in the future. I've also reread several of your short stories and Zoe Lambert's 'The War Tour.'