Saturday, August 18, 2012

Rereading Books--Do You or Don't You?

I am an avid rereader of books, and I find myself having to explain why on a fairly regular basis in a variety of settings and situations.

I don't know why the concept of rereading is so foreign to some people.  I can't imagine just reading a book once, and saying, "That was cool" or, "That really got me thinking" or, "I am so appalled at this piece of garbage I can't understand how it's on the freaking best-seller list when I can't get my book published", or whatever.

The only argument I can think of against rereading a book, in fact, is the reality that there are so many books out there and only a limited amount of time.

But I am a dork.  I don't just read books, I live them.  I allow them to change my life, my philosophies, my beliefs, and my outlook on things.  Many of my books are in execrable condition, in fact, because I fall asleep on them, write in them, and occasionally throw them against the wall (yes, Stephen King, it's true ... I should have heeded your advice toward the end of the final Dark Tower book and just stopped when you warned me to).

I also learned how to read at a freakishly young age.  I read Cujo as a first grader, and as you can imagine, the book is rather different as a teen or an adult.  I can remember picking up a copy of The Thorn Birds at my family's beach house when summer when I was eight or nine (I'd read pretty much every other book there by then) and loving the writing, the history, the characters, but knowing somehow that I was missing the point.  There are some points you just can't get when you haven't reached puberty.

I've also found that books are very different to me based on where I am at in my own life.

I have read this book over 200 times.  I also teach it.
I was a child when I first read To Kill a Mockingbird, and so I identified with Scout.  I was a tomboy.  My father was a lawyer, and not just a lawyer but one that was occasionally involved in cases that touched him on a moral basis.  I was a tomboy with an older brother.  And so on.

As I grew older, though, I read Harper Lee's masterpiece through many, many lenses.  When I became a teacher and realized the cruelty that some kids are raised with, my heart ached for Boo Radley and the Ewell children.  Coming to the whole "the universe works" conclusion about life, dealing with rape on a personal level, recognizing that there are truly evil people in the world, understanding that change comes through a lot of hard work and bitterness over the course of time ... TKAM was always there for me.

And then there's the enrichment that TKAM gave me in terms of other works of literature.  I loved Joe R. Lansdale's The Bottoms (and strongly recommend it if you haven't read it), but I would not have appreciated it the same way if not for Lee's work.  My Truman Capote phase was far cooler because I just thought of him as Dill.

It's not just Harper Lee and, of course, Stephen King (whose Dark Tower series completely altered my belief system).

Simply put, there are almost no books I've only read once ... and I've read an awful lot of books.

So how about you?  Do you reread?  Are you a selective rereader (in other words, are there some books you'll tackle more than once, but it's not the norm)?  Or are you of the ilk that reads a book once and calls it good?

I don't judge any approaches, by the way ... I'm just curious about where the wider world stands on the issue (I know my family, friends, and students think I'm kind of bizarre regarding books).