Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Read It Again, Sam

Now that it was finally forwarded to me by the very slow U.S. postal service, I read and very much enjoyed the Newsweek "What to Read Now" edition (July 13, 2009). In particular, I loved David Gates' article "The Pleasures of Rereading," where he discusses the books he comes back to year after year and never tires of revisiting. (In his opening letter for the magazine, Jon Meacham introduces Gates' musings by describing his own rereading tendencies and how, upon meeting the author of a book he read over and over in high school and confessing his longtime admiration of his work, the man looked at him and said, "You must have been a dork.")

The passage that resonated with me the most was his section on mysteries -- he quotes W. H. Auden on the subject and then explains how he has reread Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and G. K. Chesterton "more times than he can count," and then paraphrases Oscar Wilde when he confesses that he never travels without some Rex Stout on hand. He proceeds to claim that "[l]overs of these stories—can we not call them addicts?—often note that part of their appeal lies in their comfortingly familiar atmospheres: Holmes and Watson's rooms on Baker Street, with the 'gasogene' (whatever that is) and the Persian slipper filled with pipe tobacco, or Wolfe's townhouse on West 35th, with its kitchen on the first floor and its plant rooms on the roof. But the real draw is the people." And with that, I have to agree. I, too, have a giant copy of The Collected Stories of Sherlock Holmes on my nightstand and seldom go more than a month or two without skimming through a favorite Poirot mystery. And I know that I return to them over and over because I adore the characters, so much that most movie versions of the stories leave me frustrated with their paltry portrayals of my literary friends (except for David Suchet, of course).

My husband, however, never rereads fiction. He reads academic articles and books multiple times to make sure that he's understood them, and he rereads anything he's teaching (and takes notes on it -- again!) each time it comes up in his curriculum, but once he's finished a story he's done with it for good. He's the same way with films -- I, on the other hand, have seen the Pride and Prejudice mini-series enough times to be able to recite all 6 hours of it from memory as I watch.

How about you? Do you reread books, or do you figure there's not even enough time to read everything you want to once, so why bother?


  1. Please. If my Trixie Belden collection is any indication, I continue to re-read books at an astonishing rate. This is partly due to the fact that I have favorite characters that I love to visit and revisit a million times over (I will never tire of reading the last page of _Trixie Belden and the Happy Valley Mystery_ - "It means you're my special girl, Trixie."). But it's also due to the fact that I often forget what happens in books I've already read, and so I reread them in the attempt to desperately remember something (anything!) about the plot. And most of the time, the book is more enjoyable the second time around.

  2. I am a re-reader. I have read some novels eight or nine times, but only if they're good enough to be worth it. 1984 and To Kill a Mockingbird never get old to me, but I don't plan on re-reading a 99 cent paperback from the grocery store unless it surprises me.

  3. Gotta reread. Reading Catcher in the Rye in high school, and then reading it ten years later is like reading two different books.