Once Is Not Enough

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

After retiring from teaching literature, Patricia Meyer Spacks, a National Book Award finalist, reread dozens of novels and reports the results of her experiment in On Rereading.

Is there a book you like to read again and again?  


Patricia Meyer Spacks

Comments [48]

peter from Rowyaton, Ct

With regard to rereading it is hard to believe that virtually any reader has the insight and cerebral capacity to drain all the contents of Moby Dick or Homer's Odyssey in one go? Shakespeare must be read more than once and what about the works of Mark Twain. I have read The Sun Also Rises several times because of not only the story but the language. Also the first book that made a great impression on me as a boy, Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves, has been a choice for several re-reads.
And what about poetry. It would be a totally dead art if poems were read only once.
Story, language and adventure are all important.
Reread Robinson Crusoe as an adult and you will find a story you remember as a romantic adventure only to discover it is all about a devout man seeking redemption!?

Nov. 02 2011 05:19 PM
Eugenia Renskoff from Brooklyn, NY

Hi, I re read classics, like Pride and Prejudice, because I grew up with those books. I prefer classics to any other type of literature. And Elizabeth Bennet, the heroine in Pride and Prejudice, gets to marry a rich man and goes to live in a beautiful house, full of great furniture. I, unfortunately, could not marry such a man (or the man I loved). That book gives me some sort of vicarious pleasure and in times of stress, it calms me. It is like a friend I can always turn to. Gone with the Wind is another favorite. Scarlet was a woman ahead of her time. I enjoy The House of Mirth in spite of its tragic ending. Lily Bart is one of the best fiction characters ever. She is real. Anna Karenina is a book I first read at the age of 14. Classics like these books I have mentioned never go out of style. It is like falling in love—each and every time one reads them, there is something new to discover. Eugenia Renskoff

Nov. 02 2011 03:27 PM
Rue from Brooklyn

Thanks to the Stanza app and Project Gutenberg, I'm doing lots of rereading these days. I started by rereading Jane Eyre on my iphone on the subway. I've been revisiting the books I read as an English major. I just started Of Human Bondage last night after hearing Abraham Verghese talk about how reading it influenced his decision to become a physician. I also reread Catcher in the Rye about every 10-15 years. I thought I was Holden when I first read it as a 14 year old, couldn't understand him at all as a 35 year old and appreciated him all over again in my 50s. Joan Didion wrote that she keeps a journal to stay in touch with the person she once was. I think re-reading does the same.

Nov. 02 2011 12:07 PM
Steve from Bloomfield, NJ

All of the eminently quotable Travis McGee novels from John McDonald. The short story collections from Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Cordwainer Smith. Made a concerted effort over the last few years to 'recover' lost favorite books from my youth through Barnes & Noble's online network of used booksellers... Yes, this is utterly a comfort urge; that, and a need to remember who I was then, and how it connects to who I am now. This is surely as valid an urge as reclaiming old and valuable lost friendships through Facebook...

Nov. 02 2011 12:06 PM
Gene from NYC

How many times have listeners re-read "Alice in Wonderland?" Profitable every time.

On non-fiction:

For a time, I read many books on WWII, but, on re-reading "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich," I learned that no one covered this incredible era as insightfully and knowledgeably and wonderfully(!) as Shirer.

Nov. 02 2011 12:00 PM
Sonne Hernandez from Chinatown

Confederacy of Dunces is the only book I have re-read 3 times, so much undertone that continuously can be found with great wit and humor

Nov. 02 2011 11:59 AM
Lauren T from Brooklyn, NY

Favorites to reread are Middlemarch and To the Lighthouse. The first for the wonderfully drawn characters and intelligence of the narrator, the second for the transformational spell of the style.

Nov. 02 2011 11:59 AM

having just found Jose Saragamo, (loved "The Elephant's Journey" and "Gospel According to Jesus Christ") I do believe I could re-read his work on the right occassion

Nov. 02 2011 11:58 AM
Stephen B. from Brooklyn, NY

I've reread two books many times: The Great Gatsby, and Wallace Stegner's amazing Crossing to Safety.

It's less a matter of finding new depths in the books than of understanding by my reactions, by what leaps out or affects me most deeply, how I'm changing.

These books make a great pair for that purpose: Gatsby's the supreme portrait of youthful romantic egoism gone wrong, and Crossing to Safety portrays decades of friendship between two couples with strong though sometimes difficult marriages.

Nov. 02 2011 11:58 AM
Diantha from Brooklyn

I regularly re-read both E.B. White's -_Charlotte's Web_ (when visiting my parents; it's a very old hardcover and I love holding it) and Kingsley Amis' deeply funny _Lucky Jim_.

Both are written for the ear in totally different but very sympathetic ways. The first is meant to be read aloud, and the second feels like it's meant to be read in sections to anyone close by, because you have to tell someone immediately how funny it is. I always tear up with the first one and the second always cracks me up--even when I know the sad and funny parts are coming. That's part of the pleasure.

Nov. 02 2011 11:57 AM
Leah from Brooklyn

Rereading books for me is like going back for that second piece of cake: what I really want is to recreate the experience of the first time, but it somehow never lives up to what I'm hoping for. It's one of the great sadnesses of reading that, for me, you can't go home again.

Nov. 02 2011 11:56 AM
Barbara from manhattan

I've reread all Jane Austen countless times, keep fantasizing that a 7th novel has been discovered (excluding the juvenalia).

I took Vladimir Nabokov's literature courses at Cornell 1,000 years ago, and he insisted on our reading each book twice. He would tell the plots at the beginning of the session, so that, in his words,"We were not reading for mere vulgar plot." In fact, I do read for that.

Nov. 02 2011 11:56 AM
Paula from highland park, nj

The World According to Garp--so much there. Have even read outloud to someone. How about non-fiction? Annie Dillard-Teaching a Stone to Talk--language is stunning.

Nov. 02 2011 11:56 AM
Lauren T from Brooklyn, NY

Favorites to reread are Middlemarch and To the Lighthouse. The first for the wonderfully drawn characters and intelligence of the narrator, the second for the transformational spell of the style.

Nov. 02 2011 11:55 AM
Jane from Brooklyn

I've read Anna Karenina 3 or 4 times over the years starting with high school. All my life I've felt sorry for her, and saw her as a victim of the society. All that still stands, but I was stunned last year after rereading the book how unbalanced and selfish she seemed to me, and how her lover really tried to please her. I think rereading books at different ages gives one different prospective on things

Nov. 02 2011 11:55 AM
See from NJ

I'm a chronic re-reader. In addition to "Pride and Prejudice" I love "A Town Like Alice" by Nevil Shute (also issued as "The Legacy" and so much better than the TV show by the same name that aired years ago). Also try "Ruined City" by Shute, it's particularly apt now.

Nov. 02 2011 11:55 AM
Michele from Queens

Like a previous caller I reread many of the books I loved as a child. But not just to recapture the feeling of the book, more to recapture the scale of my imagination during childhood. When I reread my favorite books from childhood, the worlds I enter seem limitless, richer - almost technicolor. It's interesting to try to bring that same intensity of imagination to a new book.

Nov. 02 2011 11:55 AM

I like rereading books because when I read new ones I'm oblivious to the rest of the world and don't get anything done and don't want to talk to people. I almost failed school one year because it took be so long to get through a particularly long novel. An old book is one I can put down.
It's also like spending time with a best friend.

Nov. 02 2011 11:55 AM

I treasure the opportunity to re-read books as my children grow older and discover or are introduced to new genres of literature.

Nov. 02 2011 11:54 AM
The Truth from Becky

Now that is a great idea for bedtime re-reading! Reading something where you already know the ending. Think I will give it a try.

Nov. 02 2011 11:54 AM
Janet - Upper West Side

I reread for some mundane reasons
1. Economical : poor memory so like "new"
2. Convenience : less time selecting next book

Nov. 02 2011 11:54 AM

Now that I am older, I reread books I read in high school and college and appreciate them much more now than when I was young and had to read those books in school.

Nov. 02 2011 11:53 AM
Anna from NYC

Love this convo... I am currently rereading A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry for the 3rd time.

Does anyone remember the title of the Civil War book the previous caller mentioned. I didn't write it down in time. Thanks!

Nov. 02 2011 11:53 AM

I love rereading certain books. my favorite is the Bhagavad Gita, in many many of its translations, my favorite of these is the interpretation by Christopher Isherwood and Swami Prabhavananda. It is an every day guide.

I also re read books with which I deeply connect: with the art, heart and universallity of it. Sometimes re reading shows me that once was enough.

plus, I do not jive with the McMurtry thought, blah.

Nov. 02 2011 11:53 AM
Lauren from Brooklyn

Authors write books in circular ways - they re-write the first part to work with the end. They adjust the middle to go with the beginning. So when we re-read we go into a book knowing the end and this is how the autor wrote and read it themselves.
So we are exeriencing the book as the author did. Knowing everything yet still living it page by page.

Nov. 02 2011 11:52 AM
Catherine from Brooklyn

I rarely, if ever, re-read novels, but I voraciously re-read poetry. There's something about reading poetry over & over that is akin to listening to your favorite song continuously; the rhythm, images, and sheer musicality of poets like Pablo Neruda and Rumi leaps out from the page each and every time.

I don't get that with most novels, outside of James Joyce, whose writing is musical as well.

Nov. 02 2011 11:52 AM
DC from LES

DEMIAN by Hermann Hesse

It seems to change in meaning every five years. As if it's growing with me and teaching me new things.

Nov. 02 2011 11:52 AM
The Truth from Becky

I will re-read after a year or so if time many novels, so little time!

Nov. 02 2011 11:51 AM
geo from astoria

I dont reread books. There are so many books out there and on my to read list that i havnt gotten around to rereading any.

I do want to reread 1984. The first book i fell in love with.

Nov. 02 2011 11:50 AM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

I reread several series of books annually:

All of Sherlock Holmes
The entire 4 volume Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy
All seven Harry Potter novels
All Ian Fleming James Bond novels

Apart from those, I reread if I haven't anything new in the house and need to read. I'm a book/reading addict and if I start going through withdrawal, I need to read something, anything, even if it's a reread, just to get that monkey off my back.

Nov. 02 2011 11:49 AM
Gene from NYC

It's a bit presumptuous to think you can get everything possible out of an author's work on one reading.

It took my about 200 pages of Magic Mountain before I realized it was actually funny. I so much more enjoyed it the second time.

Gravity's Rainbow -- many paragraphs can well be profitably re-read 3 times. And I often have.

Nov. 02 2011 11:49 AM
Daniel from Chelsea

Oftentimes I'll reread a book I read when I was young, only to realize I wasn't old enough at the time to really understand it.

Nov. 02 2011 11:49 AM
Christopher D. from Brooklyn

I reread "Alcoholics Anonymous" - the Bible of 12-step program - to survice. In doing so I progress spiritual and learn more and more about myself and about the dual diseases of alcoholism and drug addiction. The book stands as perhaps the greatest work of nonfiction in the 20th Century.

Nov. 02 2011 11:48 AM
Carol from Lawrence, KS

The hitchhikers guide to the galaxy! it never gets old.

Nov. 02 2011 11:48 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

Harold Bloom said that DIsraeli read "Pride and Predjudice" 18 times because he found it so comforting.

Nov. 02 2011 11:47 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

One of the most prophetic statements made by King Solomon in the Bible: "To the writing of books there is no end."

Nov. 02 2011 11:47 AM
Iris N from NJ

Les Miserables. My favortie book. I've read it at least 10 times. Every time I do I see some other insight into the human condition.

Nov. 02 2011 11:46 AM
Siouxie from Bronx

I think it's important to read the truly great books more than once to get the full effect.

As a younger person, I was a much more superficial reader than I am now.

Nov. 02 2011 11:46 AM
Gaby from jackson heights

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (i read it in english and then in spanish to get the full scope of the journey)

Nov. 02 2011 11:46 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Probably the best book worth re-reading from time to time is the Bible. One can always find interesting bits of wisdom, especially as one gets older. It's still probably the best seller of all time even now.

Nov. 02 2011 11:44 AM
Kim Wylie from NY

I realize that I only read books more than once when I was a kid/teen. The books I reread (more than twice, mind you) somehow had opened up a door to something new to me - Little House on the Prairie, The Outsiders, Tolkein, Jeannette Winterson. They created a new awareness in me - to either new feelings or new experiences. I now find my 11 year old doing the exact same thing.

Nov. 02 2011 11:44 AM
Ed from Larchmont

I reread only when I haven't understood thet book and need to read it again to find out what the author is saying.

Nov. 02 2011 11:43 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

Great segment.
A rereading of "Crime and Punishment" last year was a great disappointment, while "Northanger Abby" was a wonderfully delightful recent escape, though I was bored by it 20 years ago.
It has struck me how much current events and their emotional impact change your perception.. A rereading of "Atlas Shrugged" during the winter of 2009 when Obama was seizing auto companies and rewarding compliant crony capitalist allies (think GE and Imelt) frightened and depressed me, whereas my reading of it many years ago yielde a "it can't happen here" yawn. My mistake.
Consequently, I wonder about everything I read new now. I am currently reading "Bloodlands" now about the carnage of Stalinist and Nazi politics of personal destruction, villification of the Kulaks (the "rich" said Joe Stalin) and mobs in the streets ... while the mobs of OWS run amuck under the false claims of social justice....and it is very depressing and disturbing. Would I feel differently if the culture hadn't declined so much recently?
Who knows. But I am not so sure now that it can't happen here.

Nov. 02 2011 11:38 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

I say, using video game jargon, if it doesn't have "replay value" it probably wasn't all that good to begin with. Anything genuinely good is worth doing again, reading again, seeing again, playing again, etc.
I believe anything of lasting value has embedded within it meaning at many different levels, and so it remains relevant throughout the ages.

Nov. 02 2011 11:08 AM
Laura from UWS

One of the pleasures of rereading over the decades is to see how differently certain works strike me and which characters I identify with most. For example, authors such as Shakespeare, etc. who offer a variety of characters with youth, maturity, and old age. I'm now able to understand and appreciate older characters now. "Romeo and Juliet" looks very different at 60 than it did at 16 or even at 36.

Nov. 02 2011 10:39 AM
Laura from UWS

Balzac's "The Magic Skin" ("Peau de Chagrin"). I read it over the summer (free Web download, Kindle with built-in dictionary--helpful for archaic words. Reading and text-to-speech reading to me!). I've been rereading passages almost every night before going to sleep, often using Kindle feature of searching for key words. I've also started reading it in the original French.

There's one author whose books I find myself re-reading as soon as I get to the good that I want to be sure I didn't miss anything: William S. Polk, esp.
Understanding Iraq: The Whole Sweep of Iraqi History from Genghis Khan's Mongols to the Ottoman Turks to the British Mandate to the American Occupation (2005).

Violent Politics: A History of Insurgency, Terrorism, and Guerrilla War, from the American Revolution to Iraq (2007)

Now that I see a list of all his books on his Wikipedia page I'm starting to drool.

Nov. 02 2011 10:33 AM
Fishmael from NYC

Re-reading good books is no different than listening to good music over again, or looking at fine art. It would be odd if we only listened to Beethoven string quartets once or twice, and then called it a day.

In fact, it is this quality of holding up to repeated readings/listenings/experiencing that is a hall mark of accomplished art.

My personal faves for re-reading are Bulgakov's "Master and Margarita" and Melville's "Moby-Dick" - I purposely let them "age" without looking at them until I feel I can again re-read them.

P.S. at what point will our e-readers/mp3 players/ etc have more content that our expected life expectancy? but I suppose there's already an app for that :)

Nov. 02 2011 10:07 AM

Brian we also reread to reflect and appreciate.


Nov. 02 2011 10:07 AM

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