Stuart Kelly posts in The Guardian newspaper an article on the re-reading of books, especially those that are not classed as “classics” Do returns diminish on rereading and re-rereading?.
I had an awkward moment during this year’s deliberations over the Man Booker prize. We had just trudged through 151 novels (I actually read a few more than that – 183 in all to be precise – but that’s a tale for a different time) and we began the process of re-reading the longlist. As I re-cracked a spine, like some kind of literary Bane, it struck me that I don’t re-read that often. I re-read classics most: Scott and Dickens, Eliot and Woolf, Melville and Zola most often. I’ve read Ulysses more times than I can remember (but sometimes just sections), and Perec’s Life: A User’s Manual certainly more than thrice. But contemporary novels? It was an embarrassing blank. I’ve certainly read Midnight’s Children more than once, and I’ve read Golding’s Rites Of Passage and Byatt’s Possession twice. Occasionally, with a cold, I’ve re-read The Mouse And His Child by Russell Hoban. I’ve dipped back into many books, from Finnegans Wake to The Recognitions by William Gaddis to Christine Brooke-Rose’s Textermination. But actually re-reading? Less than a handful of modern novels.
There are some books I do go back to time and again, but thinking about it, they do seem to be those classed as “classics”. Jane Eyre; Pride and Prejudice; Wuthering Heights (to see if it’s any better on the nth reading). Middlemarch is still on the shelf, hidden at the back, just in case I run out of any other reading material.
For modern books (lets say sub 100 years old), there are very few that I’d read more than once. Some Agatha Christie books perhaps, but not many, and when I do it’s for the brevity of the story telling – many of her stories are under 300 fairly short pages.
I am a sucker for failing to remember “whodunnit”. That’s why reading mysteries can be great, as I can read the same book several times and still be surprised at the end. Despite this trait of mine, if the book itself doesnt stand up (in terms of writing style etc), then there’s few reasons for me to read it more than a few times. I have plenty of modern crime novels on my shelves, which I havent got rid of, not because they’re great to dip in and out of, but mostly because I’m loathe to get rid of all those lovely hardbacks…..
I read a decent amount of books a year (and have about 3 years worth of reading on the shelves without having to return to a book even once), but I cant think of one that I have the urge to put on the special shelf to be read again.
Are there any books you read over and over again (especially modern ones)? Do you get something new each time you read it, or is it the familiarity and comfort of the prose that makes you come back each time?