Read and repeat

A few weeks ago author and fellow blogger Ross Murray mentioned to me that he had been rereading some books and what an interesting experience that was.  So I asked him if he would write something about rereading books for my blog, and he graciously did.

I loved what he wrote so much that I immediately reread it.

I know you’ll love it too. Here is his piece:


“Read and repeat”

We cling to our old books for many reasons. Sometimes they serve as placeholders for times in our lives – my Tom Robbins novels, for example, recall my faux-hippie days in Montreal before I went off Robbins. Just. Like. That.

Sometimes we keep our books to share with others, or maybe simply because they make us feel sophisticated. (“I’m not a hoarder; I’m a reader.”)

But often we keep books because we think we might re-read them some day – when we have time, and who has time, especially when books are such a commitment, not to mention the unrelenting ocean of new book after new book? Books are long, life is short.

More and more, though, I’ve been reading the old books on my shelf. It’s a lot like calling up an old girlfriend and saying, “Remember that love we shared?” Except it’s not exactly love as I pull out The Power and the Glory. It’s nostalgia.

The older I get, the more I feel nostalgia’s force. In many ways, nostalgia fills the space abandoned by youthful, passionate love, retaining love’s sense of longing and rose-colored optimism, but, unlike love, you always know the outcome with nostalgia. Why take a chance on a potentially disappointing new bestseller when you can revisit Barney’s Version, a relationship you know ended well?

Nostalgic reading seems like a sure bet. But, like calling up that old flame, the results can be unpredictable.

On the one hand, I recently re-read A Room With a View. I first read it in my twenties and remember enjoying the Edwardian comedy of manners and romance. But I had forgotten how outright funny E. M. Forster could be. Did I miss that the first time? Or am I simply more attuned to satire thanks to age and experience? Either way, what a great joy to return to this book. We should go out again sometime. Call you in 15 years or so…?

On the other hand, there’s Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry. I recalled finding this difficult book profound when I read it at the precocious age of 18, an impression underlined by, well, underlining. My copy is extensively highlighted, as if there were some prize for spotting the symbolism. And, boy, is there symbolism! Emphatically so. There is much beautiful writing (“I have no house, only a shadow. But whenever you are in need of a shadow, my shadow is yours.”) but the meandering, über-earnest stream-of-consciousness dragged me down into the abyss.

When I was young, did I take more pleasure in dissecting difficult prose? Was I more patient? Could I concentrate better? Should I not have been engaging in games of iPad Scrabble while re-reading this? Or am I simply more inclined these days to read for pleasure – but not for pleasure alone, if you see the difference. (If you don’t, read Winter’s Tale by Mark Halprin, an intricate but beautiful piece of magic.)

As exes go, Under the Volcano is the one you’re relieved you didn’t end up with because, well, that book is just a little bit crazy. And you’re too old for crazy.

Then there are books I know I liked but have completely forgotten. I recently re-read two classics: Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird. Other than the barest outline, I didn’t remember them at all (and I had never seen the movies). So really, these were like first dates with that girl I sat next to in Chemistry class. Nice girl, pretty. What was her name again…?

Yet how could I have invested time in these books – classics at that – and have virtually no memory of them? Perhaps I charged through them with my lifelong habit of equating books with accomplishment. It goes back to the ocean of books that is forever crashing over us. Read, done, finished! Back to the library, shoved on the shelf, on to the next. No wonder our nostalgia is so inaccurate.

Abandoned exes. Revisionist old flames. Fondly forgotten friends. They’re all on my bookshelf. But there are true loves also. A Passage to India, Slaughterhouse Five, High Fidelity, Memoirs of Montparnassebooks I’ve come back to more than once. Aside from our literary flings, we all have intimate books like this, the ones we’re married to, the ones that give so generously in the relationship, books that ask nothing in return but a visit once a decade or so. When we have time.

What’s on your bookshelf that you hope to read again someday?



To read more by Ross Murray, check out his wonderful blog here: Drinking Tips for Teens




104 thoughts on “Read and repeat

        • Bwahahaha! Don’t you hate it when you have to explain a joke and still no one laughs? I have to tell you i cracked up out loud when I read your comment Glaiza. Such appreciation for the nuances of the literature, for the elegant phrasing of the author, for the fine and intricate plot weaving. Just think if you can read, say 100 pages per hour of ficion, you can cover 4 whole books in an afternoon. And imagine, if you dedicated week of vacation to reading, you could claim to have read 84 books in 7 days by just dedicating 12 hours per day to reading Reader’s Digest. Wouldn’t that really be a conversation stopper at a party: ” So, Glaiza, what did you do on your vacation?” “Oh, i just relaxed and read 84 books.” ** insert toss of hair here as if that was a slow week for someone of your superior intelligence**

  1. My rereads are never the “classics” – those usually bore me. I reread silly little books of no importance. Georgette Heyer (her words on her works: “I should be shot for the nonsense I write”). Or fantasy novels. Sometimes even a criminal story – though that takes me a lot time to try again – I have to forget the plot first 😉

  2. Ross. Your post has brought back my own memories of books in my past and I thank you. I often re-read books that touched me and have found, like you, that they touch me again, but in different places. They also bring back the events of my youth that led me to read. The beautiful, Hawaiian girl that gave me a ‘Watership Down’ by Richard Adams. The neighbor, my friend, that gave me ‘The Hobbit’. I was once forced, yes forced, to read Silas Marner in school and learned to hate Eliot, until years later. Of course the list goes on. I’ve even been known to re-read things I’ve written with wonder and fascination that I wrote the work.

    Also with age and fading memory I can re-read books and they are new again.

  3. I don’t tend to reread books, because as you mention, there are so many more out there I haven’t read that I’d like to get to. But you make a compelling case, and now you’ve got me considering going back and reading some of my favorites, not only to revisit the wonderful story, but to study the writer’s work, something I wasn’t doing when I originally read them. I’m thinking of A Fine Balance and Memoirs of a Geisha, two of my favorites. Nice post!

  4. You know, I do a lot of read alouds. That’s all i do actually! So I hear the same books over and over many times. But I usually hear them with different voices – and that makes for a new story every time! It’s fascinating how different a tale can be with each new voice.

  5. Books really do become our friends so it makes sense to visit them from time to time, especially when all we have to do is pull them off the shelf. I could read The Grapes of Wrath over and over again and it would probably feel different each time. I’m in awe of the writing style. The funny thing is that in high school, I thought it was incredibly boring. Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus is another one that I’d like to visit again soon. Thanks for inspiring me to do that!

    • It sure is beautiful, such a gentle little book touching on such heavy subjects. I didn’t mention it in this post but I sympathized with Atticus as a dad, probably much more than I did or even could when I read it in my youth.

  6. At my age I could just fall into the trap of just reading every new book out there and be content to scratch it off my list. But, I have come to realize that it is all about the quality of the experience, not the quantity of books I must read. In addition to our own reading lists, my husband and i are reading and re reading books together while discussing them. Paul Coelho’s the Alchemist, being one of them. We finally have slowed down a little to do this.Ross writes a thought provoking post. Thanks, Letizia for sharing this.

  7. I love this! I was a book rereader for a good while there, before I got my Kindle and when it was too damn cold to make it to the library. I haven’t reread anything in some time as I’ve been trying to tackle my gargantuan to-read list.

    Solid idea though…next year I need to revisit some faves. 🙂

  8. Pingback: Read and repeat | Drinking Tips for Teens

  9. Probably the only book I’ve ever re-read was Leon Uris’s ‘Trinity’. Into my 60s now I’m more conscious than ever that I need to read and write new things rather than revisit old friends.

  10. I recently re-read Out of Africa, a book I gobbled many years ago before visiting with Africa. Like yourself, I found myself quite nostalgic (and it is a book that is nostalgic in and of itself), more for where I was in life when I first read it – so eager to experience that I missed a lot. But the second reading gave me more appreciation for Karen Blixen and her experiences. The hubris of youth! A Room with a View is another that I should read again – I recall that I enjoyed it immensely the first time but don’t really remember why now. 🙂

    • Room is definitely Forster’s lightest book but there’s a surprisingly lot in it. In fact, it’s somewhat proto-feminist, but then Forster always did write sympathetic women characters.

  11. I re-read a lot. Classics sometimes. But more recently I’ve been rereading modern books that I’ve loved. The Weird Sisters is the most recent. It is a magical book, and I love looking at the language and trying o figure out just how the author did it.

  12. What a great post! I agree with everything he said and can relate as a lifeling reader. I rarely re-read books. There are just too many on my TBR pile. But I did re-read one recently: John Saul’s ‘Comes the Blind Fury.’ I found an old copy at a thrift shop and remembered reading it when I was 12. It was so wonderfully gothic and haunting to me. A blind girl. Mean girls. A ghost, and cliffs in New England. I remember reading it and being transported in the most chilling way. So I bought the thrift store copy and re-read it. And you know what? I was 12 again, and thrilled and chilled again. And I loved it. Someday, I’ll read it again.

  13. Hey Ross and Letizia. Interesting post. i have reread a few books, like To Kill a Mockingbird, that have a feeling of depth to them. For well written books, it is like a different tale each time as i catch nuances that I missed before. There are certain authors whose work i enjoy, and I will pick up any of their books when i see them at the library or bookstore. I have, upon occassion gotten part way through and realize that i’ve read it before. Ha! it is still enjoyable.

    Fun post Ross and nice to meet you Letizia.

  14. I’m an avid reader, but not an avid re-reader. For me, out of millions books I haven’t read there always be ones I want to read more than any of hundreds (thousands?) I already read.
    If I re-read the book, it usually happens accidentally – just last month, I read two books in a row, realizing halfway – oh, this kind of sounds familiar… yep, definitely read that before… still haven’t the slightest idea how this ends…. Oh, THAT’s how.

        • Oh, there’s dozens of reasons X. The ratbastard publishers change the cover art and market it as a new book. Sometimes I’ve read part of the book while under the influence and don’t remember until I’ve repurchased it. Sometimes I read it so long ago that it doesn’t seem familiar until well into the book. Sometimes i was too immature to get it the first time around and consequently remember very little until some scene triggers the “Oh, yeah” response. Sometimes i’ve read books to impress a particular woman and as a result don’t pay any attention to it except to be able to name drop. These i often forget i’ve read when the woman exits my life.
          Sometimes I have speed read a book for a report or some other reason and don’t remember I’ve even read it. let alone the contents.

          Anyways, the list goes on.

  15. About 6 weeks ago I put up a post on “What Gets You to REread a Book?” What sparked it is that I, unexpectedly and was initially reluctant, am rereading the Harry Potter series (yes, I realize the books you’re siting are in a different class) for the 4th time. A blog I follow got this REreadathon going and I found, after a somewhat torturous inner battle, that it was impossible for me to resist, regardless of how ridiculously overwhelmed I am in my life AND my TBR list is longer than my life. After the last book of the series was released in July 2007, I hadn’t reread the series. I have it on a shelf, front and center, in plain sight near the foot of my bed and occasionally would get the “itch” to reread. My TBR has always kept me from taking on the 4100-page journey. It turns out I’m thrilled to be rereading them now.

    I’m hoping I’ll finally be able to truly focus on writing my novel series some time in the near future (the same hope avoiding my grasp for years), and rereading these books is quite a “refresher course” in the art of characterization, plotting and world-building. It’s also been long enough, and my memory seems to have held onto the corrupted movie images, that some parts of the books feel “new,” AND, now knowing the outcome through the last installment, am seeing even more foreshadowing than I had the first few go-rounds. I’m happy to revisit this magical world with my “old friend” characters.

    I have classics here, some of which I read when I was younger, that I want to reread because I only have vague recollection of the stories. The ones I read in high school I HATED reading and barely remember a word of any of them. A few years ago I reread THE GREAT GATSBY for an online grammar course and, although I still didn’t like the story itself, was able to appreciate the beauty of the language, the metaphors and the writing itself. I reread HARRIET THE SPY, a book I loved as a 6th-grader, but as an adult found I really don’t like Harriet at ALL. CHARLOTTE’S WEB is waiting, and others, along with a LOT I haven’t read yet. I’ll be reading Potter through the end of March and if I ever pick them up to reread again, it will be a very long time from now. But, oh, what a ride!

    Great post, you two 🙂

  16. Always a great discussion. And a wonderful post. Every book we read, we make a connection, a memory – there is a recognition that we are reading the story of humanity. And that gives me hope….

  17. Good call hosting this great writer (Ross, that is). A reminder of what a personal impact books make on us, the best ones actually become a part of us or vice versa, and we go back to them like photos to revel in who we were then, before. I’ve reread Joyce’s Portrait four times now and think I find something new each time. Thank you for this thought provoking start to my Sunday. – Bill

    • Ross is a great writer. I’m with you on that, Bill. Joyce’s Portrait is a great one to reread. I recently read Dylan Thomas’ Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog. The title inspired by Joyce of course. An interesting read as well.

  18. I agree with Ross. Re-reading is one of the most interesting experiences, for sentimental reasons and developmental ones. So often so much is missed in a first reading and so often a book changes as you do. Thanks, Letizia.

  19. My only real regret about all the new books I get for review is that I almost never have time to re-read – must change that! When books were relatively more expensive (or perhaps I was just relatively poorer) I would read loved books again and again – it’s like putting on comfy clothes and slippers and chilling with an old friend, rather than having to dress to impress a new date. Funnily enough, I was thinking yesterday that I must make time to re-read The Power and the Glory…

  20. I recall reading The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged when I was very young. At the time, they were a revelation. But I have no desire to re-read them. I read several of Faulkner’s books when I was in high school, only to find them terribly confusing. Then when I re-read them for a class on Faulkner while getting my MFA (at age 40), I loved them. I read them at least three times over, enjoying them more with each read through.

    Currently, I spend a lot of time re-reading small sections of novels I admire to figure out how an author did something that I’m trying to do. So I use them as mentor texts. I’m a slow reader, so I don’t have a lot of time for re-reading because I want to keep tasting what’s new. Perhaps when life slows down, I’ll have more time to enjoy the old flames.

    • It’s true that we return to certain texts wondering what moved us so when we were younger. And others, as you point out, we finally understand what all the fuss is about. There are a lot of books I read as an undergraduate that I would like to revisit as I read too many books, too quickly. Chaucer comes to mind right now for some reason.

      p.s. I like your phrase “mentor texts”

  21. Great reflections on re-reading of books. My newest review on my site was a re-read. I have read books when I was 20 and then in my 30s and it’s amazing how much my perspective has changed between the two reads for some of the novels. Also, I almost always note that I pick up extra details on the second read, much like I pick up additional features in the second viewing of a film. Art, it deserves the ‘repeat’ mode 🙂

    • It’s true, Christy, if you haven’t forgotten the plot of the book, then the second reading allows you to notice the form and more details.

      And you make a good point, we watch so many movies over and over again, but reread books with less frequency (a question of time, of course).

  22. “Nostalgic reading seems like a sure bet. But, like calling up that old flame, the results can be unpredictable”.

    So true!…
    I still have too many readings ahead that I doubt I’ll re read for a while.
    But if being the case, I think I would re read Proust first book of “A la recherche du temps perdu” and probably some books I didn’t fully understood but found amazing like “Die Blechtromme” by german Nobel Prize Günter Grass.

    Great post, Letizia…
    Sending you all my best wishes!. Aquileana 😀

  23. Technically, I plan to re-read any and all books on my shelves, but I agree about that “unrelenting ocean.” It doesn’t just loom, it threatens to drown us with guilt for all the lovely possibilities left unread.

    However, I re-read as much as I can. Books with romance, humor, and/or improbably adventures when I’m feeling a little down–authors like Janet Evanovich, Lisa Kleypas, and Terry Pratchett never fail to cheer me. I also revisit my favorite characters from time to time when the mood strikes–Kate Daniels, Arthur Dent, Elizabeth Bennet, Mercy Thompson, and Hawk and Fisher, mostly,

    No book is ever quite the same, no matter how often you re-read it–because you’re never quite the same reader.

  24. Since i read this blog I have been thinking about what books I re-read!!! For me I read and reread and reread the A la Recherche du temps perdu, for me everything is in Proust …. Thinking about it I reread mostly classic like Ana Karenina. I also love to read again poetry.
    What an interesting subject Ross…. Now i am full of nostalgia… But in a good way! You know the saying,”memory is what remains when we have forgotten everything”.

  25. Fantastic post! Rereading is a tricky one, of course there are the amazing books that need to be reread but the others that may be worth a reread seem to be subsumed by the weight of new adventures to be had, I suppose the problem with a blog is that their are always enticing recommendations and reviews coming to you.

    I do wish to reread one day, perhaps when I have finished reading the books I have, I shall divide my time between rereading and getting books from the library, as I am really cheap. I miss the books I see everyday if that makes any sense?

    • So many new books to read – our list of books to read for the first time seems to grow everyday, it’s true. I like the idea of alternating between a new book and an old book. Perhaps not each time, but from time to time.

    • My list of books to read always seems to grow with all the recommendations I get from fellow bloggers. The good thing about books is that there’s a lot of great ones out there 🙂

    • There’s that ongoing dilemma, the two lists that keep growing: new books to read and books we want to reread. I’ve never read the Narnia series, but will one day, I’m sure.

  26. I wish I had more time to reread. The one I reread quite a bit is The Great Gatsby. Oh and Candide. I always find something new to marvel over. Happy holidays!

  27. I haven’t re-read any books mostly because I have too many new ones I want to read, and because of that I think I’m guilty of charging through my books. As I was reading last night, I received a notification that one of the books I have on hold is ready, and my first thought was, I better hurry up and finish this one so I can pick up the next one. Yikes! That is no way to read a book.

    • I’ve had that feeling too, unfortunately when trying to rush through a book in time for a book club meeting. Such a shame, better to finish on one’s own time. But your comment made me laugh, the hurry to read all of ones books, the list forever growing.

  28. There are quite a few books I read in high school and college that I have little memory of. I recently reread The Great Gatsby and had a much different reaction to it than when I’d read it in high school. Now i can understand a lot of the character nuances that were over my head back then. In 2015, I plan to reread The Catcher in the Rye. I wonder what my reaction will be to Holden Caulfield.

    • I should reread Gatsby as I read it years ago and didn’t love it as much as everyone around me. Perhaps a second reading and being older will change that for me as well.

      Happy New Year, Jackie!

  29. Great post! I have books I have read many times: Lolita,Wuthering Heights, Interview with the Vampire, (yep, I’m an Anne Rice fan). I just reread two of Kurt Vonnegut’s novels and what a wonderful trip it was(I’m keeping them to read again)! On my shelf to reread, Chris Hayes, War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, How we Die, by Sherwin b. Nulan, Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi(as I read all the Nabakov and Henry James she writes on).

    • I once heard Nafisi speak and she was such an interesting speaker – discussing the power of literature – you would have loved it. I look forward to reading her latest book. You’ve got a great list there (I used to love Anne Rice, it’s been a while since I’ve picked up one of her books, I should see what she’s been up too…).

      • Oh, that must have been great!
        Anne Rice just wrote a new Lestat book. I haven’t read it, I’ll wait till it turns up in a used book store somewhere, in paper. I don’t like to read hardcovers. Too many reading injuries : )

  30. Every ten or twelve years I read Edith Pargeter’s Heaven Tree Trilogy. I read my children The Witch of Blackbird Pond, which I loved as a kid and enjoyed just as much as an adult.

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