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?