My Thoughts On Re-Reading Right Now

I’ve been thinking about the importance of re-reading. This year, I have already been approaching some of the books I read with the mindset of a slower reading pace *and* seeing if it’s a book I would want to re-read. I have plans to re-read a number of books this year and am looking forward to seeing what additional insights I will gain with reading those books again.

how to read a book

Which brings me to a book I’m currently reading:   How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren. I had read a portion of this book a couple of years ago; so I decided to re-read and then finish the book this year. Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about this statement in the book:

“Most people, even many quite good readers, are unaware of the value of inspectional reading. They start a book on page one and plow steadily through it, without even reading the table of contents. They are thus faced with the task of achieving a superficial knowledge of the book at the same time that they are trying to understand it. That compounds the difficulty.” (How to Read a Book, pg. 19)

This particular quote is one that I’ve remembered from when I first read it a couple of years ago and I’ve even referenced it before. While this quote is found in the section about inspectional reading, it’s sparked a lot of thinking for me in regards to how I read various books as well as the importance of re-reading. Also…it’s made me think about which books to re-read.  (For some context, inspectional reading is basically like a quick reading or a skimming of a book. For me, though, I’m not thinking in terms of just skimming a book but rather in terms of the first reading of a book no matter how long or quick it takes reading the book. If that makes sense. 🙂 ).

In the same section of the book, we find this statement:

“Francis Bacon once remarked that ‘some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.’” (How to Read a Book, pg. 19)

In thinking about this, I’ve thought that some books are books that I’ll only read once.  In fact, many books will probably be books I only read once. These are the books that are “tasted.” I may really like them or I may not like them at all. There may be books that are the right book at the right time or I get completely swept away into the story and I swallow them down. Will I re-read them? Maybe….maybe not. And then there are books that are just going to be ones I may read much slower and even re-read. These would mostly (maybe not all….) probably fall into the category of those to be “chewed and digested.”

This then leads me back to this idea of gaining a superficial knowledge of the book and trying to understand it. It seems the authors’ point is that some books need that inspectional reading….that pre-reading/skimming to get the basic knowledge of the book but not trying to understand it all at the same time. Then that second reading is where the reader digs in and goes deeper with it, maybe seeing more nuances in the story, or noticing distinct character development, or gaining more insight into things that can be drawn from the novel, etc. For non-fiction,  it may mean that the second time reading it will help the reader grasp more of the information presented. For me, The History of the English-Speaking Peoples by Winston Churchill would fall into this category.

Re-reading can enable us to see and talk more deeply about a book and therefore help others see more in the book as well. As an example, Silvia is leading a read-along for Don Quixote right now and I’m participating in it. I can already see how I will probably not get all that can be gleaned from just one reading of this book. While it is my first time reading it, it’s not for Silvia. And because she has read this book a number of times, she can and is sharing lots of thoughts on this book which are helping me as I read it for the first time….helping me see things that I may not have seen. And that most definitely has been enhancing my reading experience with this book. (And, also, others who are reading it and sharing thoughts in the comments are sharing insights already that I didn’t pick up on.) So re-reading can give us more layers of understanding in the book that we may not pick up on when we read it the first time and we can help others see those layers as well.



5 thoughts on “My Thoughts On Re-Reading Right Now

  1. Thanks a lot for your kind words. I enjoyed the quotes from Mortimer’s book, that’s one I am wanting to re-read for sure. I share your views, and your experience. I was never a re-reader until a couple or three years ago, when I started to re-read, a bit unaware. Nowadays I am intentional in my rereading habit. DQ is one, and I am picking a few more. I may end up writing a post about my picks. That’s helping me with being focused on my reads in a good way. But I am always open to an unexpected book. Actually, I am reading an advanced copy of a book which I will also share.
    Rereading has been very rewarding to me.
    I am glad that your first read of DQ is enhanced by my musings. I agree that a guide can help us with a deeper first read. The comments and conversation are priceless to me. You are a great close reader. I love how passionate you are. I don’t care about literature experts unless they are first and foremost just readers.

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    • We continue to grow as readers, don’t we Silvia? 🙂

      And I love unexpected book reads…new books to me that surprise me! Don Quixote may just be one of those for me! 🙂

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  2. Such a great post, Karen! I’m having an ephiphanal (I don’t think that’s a word, lol!) re-reading experience right now. When I first read George MacDonald’s Phantastes, I was expecting a regular plot line. however it seemed to meander all over the place with no real point so I was left with a very “meh” feeling about the book. Now I’m reading it 7 years later and it’s a completely different experience. First, I applied Adler’s suggestion to pay attention to the title and the first line of the book. I then immediately approached it as a dream, as it indicates, and allowed myself to experience it as such. The imagery really stood out but not only that, the deeper insights and lessons that MacDonald has for the reader and that were missed on the first read, were immediately apparent. I’m so glad I gave this book another go.

    As for books I’ve read more than once ..?? The Iliad, Don Quixote, Jane Eyre, The Lord of the Rings, The Man Who Was Thursday, Hamlet, Pride and Prejudice, Antigone, Augustine’s Confessions, To The Lighthouse (read it twice in a row), I Capture The Castle, The Inferno and others that I can’t remember off the top of my head. I’d love to get through a bunch more classics so I feel I have some more time to devote to re-reading!

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    • Thanks so much for sharing about your experience with re-reading Phantastes! I hadn’t thought about it when I wrote this post, but reading your comment brought to mind that I think sometimes, timing can play a factor in our experience with books we re-read. Don’t you think?

      I definitely think I want to re-read Don Quixote already. I’ve got so many sticky note tabs in the book already and I’m not quite halfway done with it!

      And you’ve re-read Lord of the Rings! I can see that I probably will too….just seems like there’s so much to this series and The Hobbit that they almost demand to be re-read. 🙂 My husband has read them many times over the years. They are very special books to him.

      Jane Eyre is on my list to read. I’ve never read it even though I’ve seen a couple of movie adaptations of the novel. I’m hoping to read it this year.

      Pride and Prejudice is my favorite Jane Austen I’ve read so far! I’ve only read two though….ahem….but I’ve seen so many of the movies they’ve made from her works. I tried to tackle Emma several years ago and just couldn’t get past a few pages into it. It felt so wordy at the time. But I’ve since then read many more classics (including several Dickens – who seems to be really good at being wordy! LOL) and I wonder if I tried to read Emma again, if my experience would be different. I really need to give it a go again. Persuasion is the other Jane Austen I’ve read so far.

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  3. Pingback: What I’ve Been Reading ~ January 2019 |

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