The Art of Rereading Books

It’s rather underrated, the art of rereading books.

When I was a child, books were rewards given at certain intervals. Until the next installment of happiness arrived, I often reread the ones I had. Sweet Valley Kids’ plots were narratively uncomplicated. But because dial-up Internet and a pixelated Carmen San Diego were the bosses of the third world back then, and because I am a geek to the core, I was happy to read over and over again how Elizabeth and Jessica were similar down to the dimples in their left cheeks that showed only when they smiled.

This practice stuck as I got older, partly because I was increasingly becoming a penny-pincher and partly because some stories as just so spectacular, they deserve another read. I never tire of The Missing Piece Meets the Big O, The Little Prince, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Veronika Decides to Die, The Count of Monte Cristo, and all seven Harry Potter books.

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It is in the second or third reading that you learn more deeply. Things that didn’t make sense to a twelve year old make better sense to a reader of sixteen, and maybe perfect sense to one of twenty-four – a reader who has seen more, learned more and perhaps lived a little bit more. Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha is a good example of a book one gradually falls in love with.

In rereading, certain passages that jumped out to you once may resonate just as strongly, or their grip may slacken as you become more tempered as a person. Your sympathies may withdraw from one character and be given to another. Your insight, and thus your appreciation, of the text will change depending on how much you have changed.

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There are some books that speak to you only at a certain point in your life. The timing, that serendipitous collision of page and perception, has to be right. But just as working hard opens up more opportunities, my theory is that the probability of a book coming alive increases if you read it more often.

Revisiting books that refused to speak to you once upon a time isn’t off the table either. Consider it a reassessment of sorts. You may have mistakenly labeled a novel tedious or dull simply because you weren’t able to understand its intricacies before. The literary masterpiece that is A Hundred Years of Solitude has, at best, only whispered to me, despite the two conversations we’ve had (both of which felt like a hundred years long to me). I remember it being slightly more interesting when I read it again during medical school, so maybe the third time’s the charm. Don’t give up on rediscovering books. The worst case scenario is that you will confirm that it is an atrocity – still a better and socially safer way to spend time compared to face-creeping.

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So please, please reread your books. If for some reason you can’t, or don’t want to despite my rather impassioned arguments, then kindly donate them to someone who will.

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