On rereading a book

Reading a book again is like revisiting a vacation spot, which is now frozen in time. You remember exactly what you enjoyed when you first visited. The anticipation of what will happen next is long gone, now replaced by a careful eye for detail- the choice of words, the flavors of particular scenes, and the layered finer brushstrokes of plot.

For the same reason that abandoned travel plans and trips which leave unpleasant memories are seldom revisited, rereadings require previous “travel” to provide some level of enjoyment. Otherwise, why even bother revisiting?

But this is where rereading starts to differ from a second vacation. Even in the same locale, the weather may change, the food may differ in quality, crowds may make the experience unfavorable during the present visit. There are no such convenient excuses when a book is read again. After all, the words cannot rearrange themselves: they did not dance off the page when we were not looking! The uneasy answer to why a trusted book read many times now fails to enthrall us is that we are the ones who have changed: our recollections, our experiences, our moods are no longer what they used to be when we last encountered these words.

And for that reason, rereading- a luxury, given the vast body of unread books lying in wait- is an excellent lesson in self-discovery.

(This is a relatively short post that gathers some thoughts I tweeted in the midst of writing a rather overambitious critique of one of my favorite Bengali short stories- one that I have read many times.  I’m grateful to @complicateur and @GabbbarSingh for a delightful conversation on these thoughts. The critique of the short story I mentioned still needs to be written, if for no one else, then for myself.)



4 thoughts on “On rereading a book

  1. I re-read my favorite books all the time. As you said, my thoughts have changed over time and it is with pleasure that I try and capture a past moment when I read a familiar paragraph!

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