Why I Reread Books

Truth be told, I don’t just reread: I re-reread, re-re-reread, etc. certain books so often that others might consider me a little daft. But there’s method in my madness.

I reread various books for differing reasons, but two are omnipresent: I enjoy exploring them; and I continue to learn each time I do.

Much of my current rereading takes place at the end of the day, to help me unwind and prepare to sleep. Often, I’m rereading fiction. Immersing myself in another time/culture/universe helps me set aside the present day’s stresses, calming me so that I can fall asleep more readily. Despite being tired, I still pick up nuances that I’ve missed in previous readings, or notice parallels to other books, etc. I notice shifts in usage in older literature, which may prompt some online research to learn more about how those changes happened.

I’ve done this sort of rereading since childhood—and I still have a few of my childhood books, and will sometimes return to them to reread. It was a happy surprise to discover that the name I’d given to my first new car came from one of those books. Others I’ve had to replace so that I could both reread for my own pleasure and read aloud to my kids. Their responses often led me to see elements of a story in a different way.

In graduate school, I learned the value of rereading nonfiction in order to deepen and expand my understanding of a paper or book. Through this practice, I also became a better critical thinker, identifying potential problems in an experiment’s design and noticing how strong rhetoric could obfuscate gaps in logic or similar issues. When I left teaching a few years back, my rereading of nonfiction scaled back dramatically. I hadn’t intended that and now that I’ve noticed it, I realize I miss that kind of reading and thinking.

My friend Peter Saint-Andre has given me a new reason to both reread and read more closely: what he calls “paired reading.” He and a friend choose a book to read at the same time and discuss. He’s done this with Sig, and Peter and I will be starting our paired reading this week. We’re reading a piece of fiction that I have previously read but which I don’t remember well, so it will be interesting to see if returning to it provokes anything to surface from the depths of my mind. I’ll be sharing some of my thoughts here too.