Historically — which is to say, before blogging — I have been a huge rereader, devoting a solid fifty percent of my reading time to books I have read before. These days, I reread far less often, and far fewer books, for a variety of reasons.
1. Ease of access, home. I have bitched and moaned about leaving Louisiana more than any girl with the level of job satisfaction I currently experience has a right to bitch and moan about anything. But if I may complain just a tiny bit more without making you hate me, being separated from my books has been a trial. In the old days, I would drift around my bookshelves for several minutes, letting my eyes wander over the abundance of old and new books, and the choices were many and varied. If, as was often the case, I just wanted something to read while I was brushing my teeth, it was easy and convenient to scoop up a book I’d read a dozen times already, and read it yet again.
1a. Ease of access, library. I’m not blaming the New York Public Library — well, actually, yes, I am blaming the New York Public Library. It is not as good a library as my library at home, in that I have significantly more difficulty in getting the books I want. Either they are not at the branch I go to, or they are ostensibly at the branch I go to but they are cunningly mis-shelved so that nobody can find them. The holds system proceeds at the speed of, of, of a snail. A snail that is driving very slowly! The books I might consider rereading take weeks and weeks to reach me, and by then I’ve moved on.
2. Adulthood. Oh, adulthood. I thought you were going to be so cool, and you have proved to be quite the double-edged sword. On one hand, I am now old enough to appreciate some amazing books that would have been over my head a few years ago. on the other hand, rereading demands more of me now, and I demand more of it. It’s not like the old days, when I could grab Magic by the Lake and zip through it in two hours. (And my copy of Magic by the Lake is at home, anyway.) (I mean, new books aren’t like Magic by the Lake in awesomeness packed into short lengths; I don’t mean Magic by the Lake has palled because I’m a grown-up now.) When I pick up a grown-up book to reread it, it takes longer to read, and I want it to be correspondingly more rewarding. A fluffy grown-up book, say, Jodi Picoult? Not worth the time it takes to reread in the way that a fluffy YA book would be, like Caroline B. Cooney. Ditto a mediocre non-fluffy grown-up book. I’m less likely to reread a grown-up book once, and that makes me less likely to reread it enough times that it becomes a comfort read that I return to even though I know it’s not the best book in the world.
3. Teh blogz, posting. Although I would like to say the blog has been an unmixed good, it does have the very occasional downside. When I reread, that’s time spent on a book I can’t review here, and then I feel guilty. Of course since I have posted almost nothing in the past few weeks anyway, y’all probably wouldn’t notice the difference. (By the way, one really good excuse for me not posting much lately is that I’ve been reading a bunch of books published by the place where I work, and I feel I can’t ethically review them without disclosing I work for their publisher, and I don’t want to do that because I want to keep the blog separate from the job.)
3a. Teh blogz, reading. Y’all are very persuasive! I always have a huge list of new books to read. When I am at the library and not sure what to read next, I’m more inclined now than I once was to look for new books I know about because of y’all, rather than old books I might consider revisiting.
4. Nonfiction. I have been reading a lot more nonfiction the past few years than in my previous existence. The difficulty is that I keep discovering pockets of information about which I know absolutely nothing, and then I feel urgently I must learn everything about them, or at least enough about them to carry on a halfway intelligent conversation (halfway intelligent meaning that I know enough to know what details I don’t know). All the nonfiction books now piled around my bedroom gaze at me reproachfully, and even if I secretly want to be rereading Tam Lin, I feel my time would be better spent in learning about the history of the Supreme Court or the colonization of Liberia.
All of these are valid reasons. I don’t feel particularly guilty about any of them. Set against them, though, is the inescapable fact that I am rereading The Secret History for the fourth time since July 2010, and dammit, it’s holding up! My resentment of life for getting in the way of my reading The Secret History is just as ferocious now as it was the first through fourth times I read it. But somehow it took me over four years to reread The Secret History the first time! What? All the above-mentioned reasons kept me from rereading a book that is fast becoming one of my favorite books of all time.
There is a particular pleasure in rereading that original reading doesn’t provide. You already have the outline of the book sketched out in your head, which means that when the details fill in, your mind has somewhere to put them in the grand scheme of things. I’ve compared reading the end to putting together the edge pieces of a puzzle first; rereading is like that, only more. As I reread The Secret History, I know enough about what’s coming to be able to give over my mind to admiring Tartt’s artistry. What tricks does she employ to make her characters so mesmerizing? How can she possibly make it seem that a homicide is grand and necessary, and the real shabbiness would be in insisting on the intrinsic value of a narrow, bigoted life? And after she’s accomplished that quite thoroughly, how does she, so elegantly and gradually, jab holes in the certainty she instilled in the reader, character by character, until only one character still holds utterly to the necessity of the murder? And how can that one character remain the one whose approval the reader wants, the one the reader somehow still wants to believe in?
Except that can’t be all of the reason. I don’t reread Tam Lin to marvel in Pamela Dean’s exceptional plotting and beautiful writing. The greater portion of my rereading must be rooted in enjoyment, and the enjoyment of rereading must possess a quality that the enjoyment of original reading does not possess. The thing I said above is part of it, but if I’m honest, I must admit it’s not the greater part. I don’t know what the greater part is!
How about it, my lovelies? What is the greater part? Whence the delight in revisiting an old favorite? Have I amply covered the reasons for not rereading? What’s good and bad about rereading? If you don’t like to reread, why don’t you? If you do like to reread, what factors go into your decision to reread an old book rather than reading a new one? Tell me everything.