Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Case for a Reread

When I moved a little over a year ago, one of the challenges I didn't face was what to do with all my books. This had been an issue in moves past, but this time around it was much less so, because a few months prior I had finally given away a lot of the books on my shelves. I donated them to a library, and this was done to get the boxes out of my closet. At one point they had all been on shelves, but I had simply run out of room.

I also realized I was probably not going to get around to rereading most of them. Not because they weren't good books, because they were, but simply because they weren't really books I was going to re-read anytime soon. Eventually, yes, but in the meantime they were taking up space, and with a few exceptions when the time comes I'm sure I can find them in a library or used book store all over again.

I did hold on to my collection of Stephen King books, but I confess that at one point I belonged to that "King book of the month" thing. Not quite as bad as some other things I could confess to, sure, but I still feel a little foolish about it. Most of those I won't reread any time soon either, but there are two exceptions.

That there are only two is not a reflection on my fondness for the author. Truth is, most of the things I read get read once and then shelved. Part of that is just that I remember the plot for them, and so I won't get more than thirty pages in before everything clicks into place. With the mysteries I like to read, that takes away some of the joy. (I say this as someone who skips ahead to the end of the book, but that's different.) Part of it is just sheer voraciousness on my part, reading lots of different genres and authors and subjects.

Which means that I have no shortage of new books to read. So why go back at all, then, to something I've already read?

The short answer is that some books are just so complex, they require a reread. This is why 'The Stand" is on my list of books to go through again this summer. It's been far too many years since I read it last, and I think this is the summer to amend that. It's also why every few years or so I drag Tolkien, or Herbert, back off my shelves (or the library shelves) and read through stories I am quite familiar with already.

That familiarity is also a part of it. While reading new books by favorite authors reunites me with their voice and mannerisms, it's not quite the same as stepping back into a favorite story by a favorite author. The first is like reconnecting with an old friend, the second is like reconnecting with an old friend in the places you used to hang out, sort of recapturing the past. Of course, it's never quite the same because you're in a different place than you were then (which is why nostalgia only goes so far), but it's close enough to provide a certain kind of pleasure you just can't get anywhere else.

Which is why some books will always be on my reading list, no matter how many times I've been through them. Sure, I'll continue to read new things, yet it's comforting to know that, should I ever come up empty at the local library - only because my local branch is quite small - there's something waiting for me at home.

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