Rereading

It’s a gloomy, rainy Saturday, which makes it a perfect day to stay inside and read, which is exactly what I’m doing. Since I took a long bike ride yesterday, I am content to be sedentary today.

I’ve been thinking about reading and rereading recently, after I discussed an excerpt from Sven Birkerts’s Gutenberg Elegies with my students. This excerpt discussed intensive and extensive reading, or reading the same things over and over (a common practice when books weren’t plentiful) versus reading things only once and moving quickly from one thing to the next. Birkerts makes an argument for the value of intensive reading, for knowing texts deeply and intimately and for devoting time to contemplating their meanings. This is one way to develop wisdom, a quality he thinks we’re in danger of losing.

I’m not impressed by this argument about wisdom, and I don’t generally buy claims that bemoan the ways things are deteriorating in these horrible modern times, but I do like the idea of intensive reading. As someone who’s spent quite a few years studying literature, I like rereading texts, contemplating them, reading other people’s ideas about them, writing about them, maybe even gaining a little wisdom from them. But, of course, there are so many things to read, and I want to read as many of them as I can. I generally read extensively — moving from one new book to the next — but sometimes I get a longing to reread something, anything. I want the feeling of coming back to a familiar story. And I’ve heard multiple people saying something along the lines of “You haven’t really read a book until you read it the second time,” which I believe, in a way. The first time through, you are orienting yourself, learning the basics of the text, and the second time through you can pay attention to the finer points and understand more about what the author is doing. But I can’t read everything multiple times, even things I love.

So I’m torn, wanting both to get to all those books that sound so great, and wanting to linger over the ones I like, reading and rereading them. Usually newness wins out.

How many of you reread things? Do you often reread?

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Filed under Books, Reading

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