word craft


The Phantom of the Opera and Rereading

Phantom of the Opera

As I write this—April 16, 2023—Andrew Lloyd Weber’s musi­cal, The Phan­tom of the Opera, will end its New York City Broad­way run—the longest run in the­atri­cal his­to­ry, with 13,981 per­for­mances. It began in Jan­u­ary 1988. 

I must have been one of the few peo­ple not to have seen it, but a vast num­ber have. One per­son saw it six­ty-nine times. Anoth­er one hun­dred and forty! Anoth­er made a life by see­ing it per­formed in many coun­tries but was most impressed by the one he saw in Swe­den, because, he said, it was done “dif­fer­ent­ly.” Some­one had the street address of the the­atre tat­tooed on her arm! These folks call them­selves “Phans.” 

All this was report­ed in the New York Times.  

There are par­al­lels with books. I once met some­one who told me he read the entire Har­ry Pot­ter series six times. I have met folks who have read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prej­u­dice often—these folks call them­selves “Janeites.” 

In pur­suit of data to sup­port this essay, I checked, and there is cur­rent­ly post­ed a Goodreads review of my The True Con­fes­sions of Char­lotte Doyle, in which the review­er indi­cates she read the book six­teen times. 

As I have con­fessed in this blog, every Christ­mas I reread Dick­ens’ The Christ­mas Car­ol. That’s—another confession—a lot of Christmases. 

I’m sure many of us know young read­ers who reread their favorite books a fair num­ber of times. How many of you have read a favorite pic­ture book to a young read­er so many times you could and per­haps do so with a weary heart? 

What does one get with reread­ing? If one has been engrossed with the plot so much that you are turn­ing the pages at a fast flip, you may miss many of the nuances of a beau­ti­ful­ly writ­ten text, and indeed aspects of the plot. There are real joys in what might be called slow, atten­tive read­ing, often best found when rereading. 

But there are neg­a­tive aspects. When I first read Hemingway’s The Sun Also Ris­es, the writ­ing fas­ci­nat­ed me. A reread only brought me irri­ta­tion by way of its man­nered style. 

I recent­ly reread Dick­ens’ Great Expec­ta­tions—which I first read in my twen­ties. A reread aston­ished me by how much of the book is about abuse, pound­ed out, and received. Vir­tu­al­ly every char­ac­ter is touched by this cru­el­ty. When I first read it (in the 1950s) I may not have even known what the term abuse meant. 

By the same token, as we have been informed and edu­cat­ed about racism, misog­y­ny, and prej­u­dice of one kind or anoth­er, reread­ing may inform us about crit­i­cal things we have missed. 

Of course, when writ­ing, I am con­stant­ly re-read­ing my own work, for­ev­er (so it feels) find­ing things to make bet­ter. Indeed, if I have rea­son to reread one of my own books (pub­lished years ago) I inevitably find things I could have improved. No sur­prise: I don’t like to reread my own work. 

All that said, the return to a text which was mov­ing, or mean­ing­ful in oth­er ways, can be a deep com­fort, a kind of lit­er­ary com­fort food, or even a revival of vital wis­dom. It can be like a vis­it with an old friend, a return to a place that fills you with fond mem­o­ries, a reminder of the good things in life. 

There are lots of lists of fine books to read. How about a list of books worth rereading? 

Does any­one care to share? 

4 thoughts on “The Phantom of the Opera and Rereading”

  1. I read The Lord of the Rings twelve times before I was thir­ty. It’s been a cou­ple of decades since I last read the books. I’ve seen the movies but they nev­er felt as sat­is­fy­ing as the books. Per­haps it’s time to re-read them once again.

    I’ve also read A Wrin­kle in Time and The Arm of the Starfish (Madeleine L’En­gle) at least six times.

  2. The books that I have read the most:
    Beyond the West­ern Sea (the first book split in two)
    Lit­tle Women and sequels
    Anne of Green Gables and sequels
    The Secret Garden
    Pride and Prej­u­dice and Mans­field Park
    The West­mark tril­o­gy by Lloyd Alexander 

    I think reread­ing is most fun when it has been long enough that you have for­got­ten much of the book. Also reread­ing the begin­ning of a series so you can spot the foreshadowing.

  3. Lit­tle Women
    Rose in Bloom
    Stranger in a Strange Land
    Lord of the Rings trilogy
    Sher­lock Holmes books
    Tarzan Books

  4. I’m sure I’ve read Pop­py at least 20 times. I’ve read it aloud to my class just about every year of my 24 years of teach­ing. I also recent­ly read it with my 8 year old daugh­ter. The Last of the Real­ly Great Whang­doo­dles was anoth­er good one to reread. Although, I think the best books to reread are his­tor­i­cal fic­tion books. I find myself want­i­ng to learn more of the his­to­ry after read­ing the book. The when I’ve learned more his­to­ry I find myself want­i­ng to reread the book again and I can appre­ci­ate it more. Sophi­a’s War is a great exam­ple of this.


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