Ten Wonderful Things, Part Six: Rereading

The sixth of ten wonderful things about this semester.

#6: Rereading

One day my IB students and I were discussing how much they wished they had time to reread all the novels we were working on in order to more fully understand them.  I said, “If any of you are considering becoming an English teacher, I can tell you that this is one of its great joys.”  Then I paused.  “Well, sometimes it’s a joy.  Sometimes it’s tedious.  But when it’s a joy, it’s really a joy.”

This semester, I didn’t reread Franny and Zooey or Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, because I have read each of them about forty times and needed to invest my time in other things.  I did, however, reread each of the four books for my IB course: Talking it Over (Julian Barnes), Unless (Carol Shields), Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro) and Kitchen (Banana Yoshimoto).  Anticipating having to reread them felt like a chore, but once I began, I remembered what a pleasure rereading is, and how seldom I indulge in it.

When I was a child, I reread everything, usually twice.  I grew up in a small town with a small public library and an even smaller bookstore.  There was no Amazon; the closest we had were the Scholastic book flyers we received at school once a month or so, when I would order as many books as I was allowed and then devour them all in a matter of days.  So my reading choices were limited.  I had to reread.

What was more, because I read very, very fast, I missed a lot of stuff.  The second time I read a book, it was almost as new as it was on first reading.  When I came across a book in the library that I had first read, and liked,  a few months before, I felt a special kind of excitement: I knew I was in for a treat, but I wasn’t sure exactly what kind of treat it would be this time around.

Now I only reread books I have to teach, and I don’t anticipate them with that kind of excitement: reading for work, like reading for school, feels like, well, work.  Nevertheless, when I’m rereading a novel I love, I realize how lucky I am to do this job.  Reading Never Let Me Go for the third time made me particularly aware of how great I have it: I get to spend my time talking about books I love.  I get to introduce these books to people who might also love them.  But most of all, I get to read them and read them and read them again, and, if I get really tired of them, I get to pick something else to reread.

(If you haven’t read Never Let Me Go, please do.  If you have, please read it again.  It’s my favourite recent book right now, and it gets better every time.)

For the fall, I’m planning a list of eight memoirs for my students to choose their texts from, plus one full-class text (The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls).  This means I need to reread (or, in some cases, read) all of them.  Much of my summer will be taken up with this task.  It could be worse.

Are you a rereader?  What books do you reread?  Which ones would you like to reread but never get around to it?

*

Previous wonderful things:

#5: Exceptions

#4: Harry Potter

#3: Early Mornings

#2: Incorrect First Impressions

#1: My IB Students

Image by Benjamin Earwicker: www.garrisonphoto.org/sxc

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9 responses

  1. I love to reread. At the risk of sounding flighty, I love the prospect of meeting an old friend again and again…and many of those characters have become just that.

    I don’t often get rid of books for this very reason. Who knows when you’re going to want to spend your time with an old friend instead of getting to know a new one? And when I need to sleep, a book I know is much more likely to get me there than a completely new, unknown one.

    Of course, I tend to like books better than people anyway 🙂 So that’s probably part of my delusion. Haha.

    • Crystal:

      “Of course, I tend to like books better than people anyway.” I hear you. However, that’s gotten less true as I’ve gotten older, and maybe that’s a part of why I’m less inclined to visit old book-friends…

      I’ve fallen out of the habit of reading myself to sleep. Maybe if I put I pile of beloved old books on the bedside table, instead a pile of shiny new books I feel guilty about not reading yet, that would change…

  2. I do very little re-reading and in fact donated most of the books I read for my book club to the English department book sale about three years ago. Much of what I reread is neither recent nor high literature either. The few texts that come to mind are: Stephen Fry – The Hippopotamus; Jerome K. Jerome – Three Men In A Boat; Patrick Dennis – Auntie Mame; Charles Dickens – A Christmas Carol; George Grossmith – Diary Of A Nobody.
    There are so many wonderful books which I am dying to read for the *first* time that I get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach just thinking about it. I have so many books in my apartment I know I will not live long enough to read them. It is like browsing through a really small lending library or bookstore, except that the books are free and there is no due date when I “borrow” them. There are many “oh? I didn’t even realize I owned that” moments.

    • Michael: I know what you mean; I have created a bursting “unread books” shelf and it glares at me accusingly every time I walk by. Every so often I get ruthless and purge a bunch of things that I’ve owned for five or more years but have never read. This is why so little rereading gets done; my new books snarl at me until I pay attention to them, so how can I indulge old favourites? Again, one thing teaching is good for – rereading is “work,” and therefore something I can’t feel guilty about.

  3. I love to reread. So many books have favorite characters and adventures that I can’t wait to meet again. We have large bookshelves in the family room, stuffed to overflowing, but the favorites are stacked high along the bedroom wall, within handy reach.

    I found you from Maggie’s blog, and I’m glad I did.

    • Thanks, Bruce – I’m glad you did, too! Keeping favourite books within reach is a good trick – I may try that one.

  4. I’m an English teacher too (as well as a History and Theory of Knowledge teacher) and am a big Re-reader. Carlo Levi’s (non-religous) “Christ Stopped at Eboli” is too great to ever completely stop going back to. Paul Theroux’s travel books are fantastic to re-read, and no soon had I finished Don Watson’s “American Journeys” then I read it again!

    I sometimes re-read because I can’t get to an English language bookshop…

    Great site, btw. Your love of literature really comes through.

  5. Doesn’t everyone re-read? I buy extra copies of the special friends as paperbacks, because they get dropped in the bathtub, or lost in the crevice between the bed and the nightstand. I found one under the first aid kit in the trunk of my car the other day.You can tell my favorites because the covers have gotten dog-eared and separated.
    Some I know almost word-for-word, and I still get that tiny thrill of anticipation realizing that, on the very next page, I’m going to come face to face once again with the perfect sentence, the absolutely un-editable two word phrase. Many books I can open at any page and start reading and never, never feel sated or disappointed.
    Then, of course, there are some others . . .

    • Anita: no, I don’t think everyone rereads. I myself am much less of a rereader than I used to be. However, we’re moving soon, and lately I’ve been looking at my bookshelves and suggesting to myself that I really need to stop buying new books and instead undertake rereading things to see if they are worth keeping…We’ll see if that happens.

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