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.
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.
I’m no reading expert that’s for sure. Ha! But I love books and I love reading and what I think I’m trying to say in all this rambling is that I think we can gain so much from re-reading. I am the first to admit…I’ve typically not been a big re-reader. But that’s changing. Of that handful of books that I have re-read, I can say that having read them more than once, I have a deeper knowledge of the books than if I had only read them one time. I also look at having recently read The Hobbit and just now finished up The Fellowship of the Ring from Tolkien and can see that these are ones that have so much to them that it really seems one reading is not nearly enough to get all that can be gleaned from them.
While I may have a ton of books I want to read, it’s worth my time to *make* time for re-reading. And that’s what I’m being more intentional about this year. In fact, it’s one of my reading goals. And I hope to share my insights along the way as I read some books again.
What has been your experience with re-reading books? What books have you read more than once and why?