Sunday Salon: Do you re-read?

The Sunday Salon

Re-reading is one of those subjects that comes up every now and again and every time I say wish I did, I just never get round to it. But that’s a rubbish excuse. I mean, if I don’t re-read, then what’s the point of my beautiful library (except as a repository for the ever-expanding TBR)? I have friends who re-read all the time, who return to certain books over and over again, and I can definitely see the appeal.

I was listening to an old episode of Books on the Nightstand in which Ann and Michael discussed how they don’t re-read and I recognised some of their excuses: too many new books – both in terms of the excitement of new books and the pressure to keep up – but also the fear that a book that was a perfect read the first time round won’t live up to the memory of it on re-reading. But I must also admit that blogging is another reason I don’t do it. Because it’s a lot harder to review a book on a re-read. Or at least, it can be.

For instance, I just read The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for, I think, the third time. Not only have I read it before, and all of its sequels, and watched the TV series and the film (though sadly never heard the radio show) but it’s also become a firm part of our culture, from the Babel Fish online translation tool to our local secondhand bookshop Beware of the Leopard to everyone’s favourite number being 42. There’s even a Towel Day every year to celebrate the work of the late Douglas Adams. This weekend, while going round our neighbourhood arts trail (here’s my post about the 2010 trail) I spotted that the sign next to the Norwegian waffle window included a joke about Slartibartfast, which made me grin like a loon.

How do you review a book like that? It’s not far off when I read a book for book group and on my way to the meeting I’m desperately trying to think of something more clever to say than “I liked it”. But then, The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is exceptional, surely. Not every book I want to re-read is going to be quite so…well, brilliant.

Of course, when I was a child and even as a teenager I re-read all the time. My copy of Carbonel by Barbara Sleigh is in pieces I read it so often, and I’m frankly amazed my other most-read favourites The Wickedest Witch in the World by Beverley Nichols and The Ghosts of Motley Hall by Richard Carpenter (yes yes, I loved a book based on a TV series) didn’t end up in the same state. I think I did buy new copies of a couple of Roald Dahl books that were getting tatty. But then I hit 16 or so and stopped re-reading as often. And the books I have re-read as an adult – most of which were for book groups – I have still only read two or three times, as compared with the at least 50 times I must have read the three titles listed above.

Of course, I do have less free time now. And I do challenge myself more (sometimes, at least) with my reading choices. And I am aware of the limited time I have versus all of the beautiful books out there that I have yet to read. But still, it is both comforting and rewarding to re-read and once again I conclude that I should do it more.

What about you? Do you re-read?