The Value and Pleasure of Re-reading

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I’ve written many posts about the art of writing but today, I thought I would take a step back to consider a basic fact: Writers are first and foremost readers.

In days gone by, when life was simple and serene, an evening of pleasure and joy often meant sitting down on one’s favourite living room rocker or sofa, with feet propped up and a cup of hot chocolate close by.

And the ubiquitous novel firmly in hand.

These days though things are very different, to put it mildly. Distractions are abundant (I’m lookin’ at ya my dear phone!). Attention spans are gnat-length. Patience is in short supply. Slowing down no longer a desired attribute.

Pity.

Of course, every now and then we yearn for that good old day, and recall afresh the wonderful delight of just sitting down to a good read in soft ambient lighting. Maybe a little Mozart or Man Tran playing on repeat in the background to complete the mood.

Most certainly NOT the glaring, retina-piercing blue light that’s shooting flames from your device’s screen right into your future cataract. Or the endless ping-ing from your phone, calling you back to its promise of addictive finger tapping and swiping!

Fine. But what to read ah?

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Yes, I hear ya.

Cos there is just a gazillion stuff to read now and, let’s not forget that most books these days are also available as ebooks and/or audiobooks. And after that preceding description, surely I can’t be asking you to read from screens again?

Nope, don’t worry. I’m not.

Then what? Go to the public library or bookstore? But it’s still Covid season.

Well okay okay my eager Padawan, how about this?

Let’s try “re-reading” instead.

Confused? Let me explain.

Dust off that old novel why don’t ya?

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Over the last three decades of my now half-centurion life, I’ve managed to amass shelves upon shelves of books. I’m proud to say that my now-gnarly fingers have thumbed through the pages of nearly every one of them at least once. However, sad to say, few have gone beyond that once-over.

Pity (again).

But earlier this year, after listening to a podcast where an enthusiastic professor spoke about the pleasures and (more importantly) the values of re-reading, I’ve begun looking at my shelves again with renewed interest.

And hope.

I think back to the days before life caught up with me. The fantasies I read from young that took me away from the painful realities of this world, and into realms that fired up my imagination and afforded me endless solace.

Back when I was a teenager, I devoured fantasies like The Dragonlance Chronicles, The Riftwar Saga, and my all-time faves The Belgariad and its follow-up The Mallorean by David Eddings.

As I entered into my 20s and 30s, faith-based non-fiction took centrestage, in tandem with my own burgeoning spiritual journey. So my shelves started filling up exponentially with the likes of Tozer, Lewis, Piper and more.

The thing is, each of these held within its now yellow and dog-eared pages, nuggets of wisdom that can’t be fully unearthed in just one expedition. Just one reading.

Many was the time I put each book down after turning the final page, only to pick it up again and flip back to a chapter or a paragraph that confounded me. Or that gave me such a shot in the arm I just had to return for seconds.

Ever felt that way? No?

Pity (yet again).

A Hero Unsung: What Value Re-reading brings

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But I get that too.

These days, I hardly pick up books that way. And if it gets too much I give up, deciding that maybe I just wasn’t made for that tome. One man’s meat being another’s poison right?

Plus, with the smorgasbord of immediate and pleasurable options these days, who’s got the time to plough through one agonising page after another?

And yet, re-reading is such an unsung hero in the journey of every reader’s life with books. Think about it:
– To recapture that sense of triumph when Frodo finally succeeds in his mission to destroy the ring;
– Or relive that second when Harry Potter gave Voldemort the zap that ends all zaps;
– Or rekindle that emotional moment when bookish Elizabeth finally sees the enigmatic Mr Darcy for who he truly is.

You just can’t help but be changed each time, a little differently, when you revisit those pivotal moments in these stories.

It’s not just that re-reading allows you the opportunity to rekindle and recall why you loved that book. Or see parts of the book you once glossed over in a fresh new light.

There’s more.

It can actually read “different” depending on your stage of life too. Like how re-reading the romantic bits in epic novels like Withering Heights takes on a more measured hue (but with potentially more poignancy) after you’ve been married some years, compared to just before you got engaged.

Or how re-reading life hack books on how to become materially successful must seem like such a let-down after you went bankrupt from using the ideas found in them, compared to those heady initial months of launching your start-up. (Though you’re probably more likely to burn that book then read it again!)

Read to enjoy, not get ahead

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Perhaps more so than in most places, reading up where I live often means to stay “in the know” or get “ahead”. It’s typically the kind of reading up that has nothing to do with the simple pleasures of enjoying words on a page for its own sake.

It’s about climbing the corporate ladder or simply staying “alive”, depending on your economic situation or career status.

And with many now retrenched prematurely thanks to Covid, large numbers have returned to schools or adult learning centres. All with the hope that by hitting the books anew, they will regain ground and restore their usefulness to society, while putting much-needed food back on the family table.

I get that.

I’ve been round the block too, and I’ve attacked the “executive reading list of the who’s-who and the what’s-what”, even before this global health crisis hit us. And I’ve lived to tell the tale.

But really, who can live like that forever? What kind of a reading journey is that? It literally sucks the bone marrow of life out of, well, life!

So if you’ve never tried re-reading before, why not today?

Go on. Dust off that now ancient Harry Potter. Or Shakespeare. Or Tolkein. Or Christie.

And engage anew the simple delights of a good book one more time!

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