Friday, September 3, 2010

The Value in Rereading

It's amazing sometimes how it's the smallest moments in life, the offhand conversations, or the words uttered when we're only half paying attention that end up impacting us in great ways.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I had a teacher who somehow managed to mention in class that he never reread anything because he would never be able to read all the books in the world and he saw no point in revisiting something when there were undiscovered and unconsumed books.

From that point on, that shaped how I viewed rereading. I considered rereading to be a waste of my valuable time on earth, I should be discovering all of the other wonderful stories and books out there, I only have limited time after all. See, I know it was this teacher, who I really respected, that influenced me because out of all of the things I remember from his classes, this is the most deeply embedded inside of me.

Fourteen years later, I'm just now starting to recover. With the exception of Harry Potter and the Bible, I haven't reread a book in all of that time. I've driven myself to endlessly read the next book, even if it ended up not being all that great. I've read a lot of books, but you know what? The number of books I haven't read hasn't really seemed to get any smaller. I can still have a conversation with a person and despite the fact that I read around 125 books a year, I'll feel totally illiterate.

I've started rethinking this. I think there are quite a few books out there that beg to be reread. I think there are quite a few books out there whose deepest treasures can't be mined from one reading alone. After all, for me at least, the first read through is often for story alone.

I've been writing lately about how my reading philosophy is changing and this is a huge part of it. I've spent the last week rereading The Hunger Games trilogy interspersed with new reads for the Inspys Awards and my appreciation for the series grows with the rereads. I think there is a lot to be discovered in these books, things I would have missed on one read alone. But that's not all, I also picked up The Sacredness of Questioning Everything, a book I read earlier this year that pretty much set the course for my year. I intended to use it in something I was writing but found myself drawn right back to the page almost as if reading it for the first time. The book is so rich in its concepts that one read is simply insufficient for processing the ideas. It's a book that can be a companion.

As someone who reads the Bible regularly, it's funny that I didn't pick up on this earlier. After all, the words in Scripture often come alive to me in new ways and I begin to understand them in different ways for different contexts throughout my life. It stands to reason the same can happen in other books as well.

And just beyond the simple joy of digging out deeper treasures, there's something comforting about a story and characters I already know.

I know there are dangers in rereading. I do, really. Sometimes a book is actually meant to be a one time experience. I'm not saying I'm going to reread everything, what I'm saying is that I'm no longer going to feel guilty if I want to go back into a book or read it again. I'm no longer going to feel that this is wasting my life.

Books, after all, are like people. Complex and layered. More than meets the eye. Understood better, the deeper you go. I'm ready to get to know them on a more intimate level.


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