Writing for Britain’s paper The Guardian (“The Observer”, Culture/Books section), Tom Lamont describes his habit of returning to books he has already read (dated April 7, 2012). I found his article not only well-written but interesting. Are you are re-reader? I do not do this very often, especially with entire books; but I certainly have gone back to re-read parts of books or essays that appeared in a collection. And when it comes to reading the Bible, Christians are all re-readers. We read God’s Word over and over again throughout our lifetime, and return to those favorite passages that speak to us in special ways at special times. That is truly a good habit.
Here is part of what Lamont had to say about the pleasures of re-reading; find the full article at the link above.
It usually starts with a pretence of steeliness. Not the whole thing, I’ll tell myself, reaching for the ruined paperback. One chapter, a favourite passage, then I’ll wedge it back in with those books begun but not yet finished; the dozens more bought or inherited that I honestly mean to open, sooner to get to all of Dickens. I’m a chronic rereader, mostly of novels, and it is a habit as coiled with guilt as it is with pleasure, because every go-round with a favourite is also another time I haven’t read Bleak House.
…Examples mentioned here are personal. The novels that yoke the rereader are not universal – they’re not always good. Some of the motivations and satisfactions, though, must be shared.
It is time travel, a reliable way to reawaken feelings sparked by a book at first encounter. George MacDonald Fraser’s series of Flashman novels summons for me an early stretch at university, when I picked up one in a stranger’s room, skimmed a paragraph, and realised with excitement and dread that my set-text reading plan would now implode. Nineteen Eighty-Four brings back a thrilling first sense of professional life and the daily commute, Orwell’s novel finished while travelling across town for work experience at 15. Salinger’s slim book of stories will forever be a ski-trip coach that smelled not unpleasantly of Chewits; Laughter in the Dark a summer spent dumped and misanthropic and grateful for Nabokov’s mean wit. Howard’s End is the time I met my wife, opened every year since.
…To freshen my memory before writing this, I carefully explored my book shelves, alert for scuffed bindings, squeezing paperbacks for the tell-tale crackle of sand and crisp-crumb. They weren’t all there, my stalwarts, but I found them – some in a pile by the sofa, a few kicked under the bed, one hidden away in an old shoulder-bag. I’d seized them up when last ill or bored or moody or restless, in need of comfort.
Rereading is therapy, despite the accompanying dash of guilt, and I find it strange that not everybody does it. Why wouldn’t you go back to something good? I return to these novels for the same reason I return to beer, or blankets or best friends.