When I was reading a new book recently, I noticed I was in such a hurry to find out how the book ended that most of the rich descriptions, subtly hidden messages or allusions, and half of the humor was flying over my head as my eyes skimmed the pages. Even when I tried to slow myself down, I felt quite certain that I was missing parts of the book. As author P. G. Wodehouse once said, “The first time you read a book, you don’t read it at all carefully; you just read it for the story” (Clarke). For this, and for many other reasons, reading books again is beneficial.
After having read a book once, one usually remembers how it ends, so the next time one reads it, one can sit back and enjoy the other aspects of the book, not just the driving plot. And if the reader doesn’t remember the plot, even better! Now he or she can enjoy the story as if it is completely new. As Gimli notes in The Fellowship of the Ring, “Memory is not what the heart desires.” (Tolkien 395). But I don’t really mind that my memory isn’t perfect, because this allows me to have a lot of fun reading stories again.
Reading books again as one grows older can help one appreciate rhetorical devices that authors use and messages that one missed the first time around. When I was very young and first read The Lord of the Rings, I had little appreciation for Tolkien’s exceptionally good writing style. In fact, I was only reading the books so that I could watch the movies. Yet, as I read it again year by year, The Lord of the Rings grows richer.
In addition to better appreciating rhetorical devices and messages, when someone rereads a book, his or her approach will probably be different after several years have passed, and this will help the reader glean new enjoyment from the book. For example, my mother read The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis to me, which I have completed many times, yet I noticed more of Lewis’ allegory this time than I ever had before, and I liked this new “view” that going through The Chronicles of Narnia again brought.
I am not, however, advocating that one reread every book. Just as when readers choose a book in the first place, so when reading books again, they must always practice discernment. If a book is bad, one probably shouldn’t read it again. Now, if a reader just didn’t like a book the first time round, then maybe he or she should give it a second chance. Some books require several readings in order to appreciate them. Others will never improve despite umpteen perusals. It’s up to readers to discern which books deserve to be reread, and which do not.
Like listening to a song, the first time one reads a book, one notices the general beauty and the over-arching message. Then, one observes the subtle themes and allusions which the author has woven into the story – one hears all the hidden harmonies and intricate melodies that combine to make the story’s loveliness. As one picks out each instrument, one sees the incredible way in which each part combines to make the complex and rich whole of the song, or of the book. And as book-lovers reread stories – studying messages and observing rhetoric –, they will grow as both readers and as writers.
Clarke, Gerald. “P. G. Wodehouse, The Art of Fiction No. 60.” The Paris Review. Winter
31 Oct. 2014 <http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/3773/
Tolkien, J. R. R. The Fellowship of the Ring. Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston, 1993.