word craft


The Pleasure of Re-Reading

I’m sure I’m preach­ing to the choir here when I speak of the plea­sures of read­ing. But per­haps not enough is said about the plea­sure of re-reading. 

I think there have been four works of fic­tion that have most influ­enced my writ­ing life: Wind in the Wil­lows by Ken­neth Gra­ham, [its grace­ful, evoca­tive, and often hilar­i­ous writ­ing], Great Expec­ta­tions by Charles Dick­ens, [its won­der­ful char­ac­ters, and that extra­or­di­nary first chap­ter] The Mal­tese Fal­con by Dashiell Ham­mett, [the explo­sive ener­gy of its prose style] and Trea­sure Island by Robert Louis Steven­son, [the breath­less romance of his­tor­i­cal adven­ture bol­stered by a bril­liant cast of characters).

The Wind in the Willows
The Maltese Falcon

(I sus­pect that if any of you have read more than a few of my books, you will note the influence.)

It’s worth not­ing that I read all of these four books before I reached my twen­ti­eth birth­day. Now, in my eight­ies, I still find them won­der­ful. Indeed, from time to time, I re-read them, in whole or in part. I do so for con­tin­u­al enjoy­ment, but also to remind myself what great writ­ing is all about, the kind of writ­ing I have always—and still—aspire to. These books—and the writers—are my con­stant teachers.

As a read­er who is almost always swept away by the plot, re-read­ing allows for a more leisure­ly stroll through the text, allow­ing me to note writ­ing nuances I pre­vi­ous­ly missed, a greater appre­ci­a­tion for char­ac­ter delin­eation, plus the sheer plea­sure of tak­ing note of writ­ing skills I took for grant­ed. I also note aspects of plot details I have inevitably passed over. More­over, I think re-read­ing always pro­vides a greater under­stand­ing of a great writer’s depth and per­cep­tion of life. Such writ­ing deep­ens my expe­ri­ence and my under­stand­ing of the world. And when, as is some­times the case, the re-read­ing takes place after years, I am read­ing the book as a dif­fer­ent per­son. I think you can mea­sure your growth by how you take to a re-reading.

Treasure Island Robert Louis Stevenson
The Sun Also Rises
Pride and Prejudice

As a young writer, I was much attract­ed by Hemingway’s The Sun Also Ris­es. A recent re-read­ing found me dis­lik­ing the book a great deal. I found the styl­is­tic man­ner­isms annoy­ing, and the char­ac­ters down­right unlikeable. 

A com­pa­ra­ble re-read­ing of Austin’s Pride and Prej­u­dice made me much more aware of her sharp satire and deli­cious humor than I could grasp when younger. 

[All this said I have an almost vis­cer­al dis­like of re-read­ing my books. I too often find myself con­front­ed and con­found­ed by the bits and pieces I could have, should have made better.]

It’s com­mon­place to some­times think, I wish I could have lived a past time again. Per­haps the clos­est way of achiev­ing that is by re-read­ing a book that was once dear to you.

I’ll say the obvi­ous: we all grow old­er. By way of con­trast, great books don’t become old­er, just wiser.

1 thought on “The Pleasure of Re-Reading”

  1. Absolute­ly agree with Avi on the val­ue of re-read­ing books that spoke to me as a child, as a young adult and now as a 50 some­thing per­son. When re-read­ing I find nuances I nev­er noticed before or per­haps did not appre­ci­ate as I can now. I find re-read­ing a trea­sured book or poem like meet­ing up with an old friend. A stead­fast f friend­ship that changes over time as I bring my book of life expe­ri­ences to the text- to feel more enriched, to find com­fort, to con­jure up mem­o­ries (good and maybe not-so-good) , and to rekin­dle a sense of won­der at the pow­er of the writ­ten word.


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