The Power of Re-Reading

In my Romantics class we’re reading a lot of poetry and some prose. This week we were reading excerpts from William Wordsworth’s “The Prelude”. Poetry, as a lot of people know, is not easy to digest. Especially Romantic era poetry. The only way I was able to get through this poetry was reading it once, preferably aloud, and then reading it again and putting notes to what was going on beside the text. Now, I know this is a lot of work, but trust me, it helps. I went into my class this evening knowing exactly what was going on and because of that what I learned was a hundred times better.

Re-reading doesn’t just apply to Romantics poetry and simply understanding it. It applies to everything. In this same class I had to read Jane Austen’s Persuasion (which I’d read over the summer already). So, when we got to the book, I went ahead and re-read it, this time through a more academic lens (focusing on some specific questions and such) and I got SO much out of the book.

The best examples for why re-reading is so powerful is for books like Lolita by Nabokov. I read this highly controversial book for the first time this summer for fun, crazy I know. But, I’d heard so much about it that I felt I needed to read it, to enrich my mind and make my list of books read more distinguished… Little did I know at the time how bad it is to read it the first time. It was dreadful because I could not get past the content. When I started school this semester my teacher told us that we were going to be reading Lolita as a class. On one hand I was happy I’d had it done, on the other hand I didn’t want to suffer through it again. We finished it Tuesday and I am so glad I made myself go through re-reading it. Re-reading Lolita made me realize why everyone was saying it was such a great book. Once you get past what is actually happening you can see all of the twists and things that Nabokov is doing. His writing is brilliant and you wouldn’t necessarily realize it on the first read. Plus, with a book as dense as Lolita, you can miss a lot of really great things that the writer does.

The best things to re-read to gain a deeper understanding of the text would be classics, modernist writings, and poetry especially. Another good one are books you read as a child or in high school. We read The Great Gatsby in the same class we did Lolita and while I’d already read it in high school, reading it as a senior in college was a whole new experience. In high school I remember we had focused on colors within the novel. While in college though we touched a bit on the colors but mostly we looked at some of the deeper things, like how the war affected them, Tom’s brutality, Daisy’s voice being like money. All great things that made the novel so much more than what I’d experienced in the past. Re-reading old things when you’re at a completely different point in your life is such a great tool so you can get more from it. Plus, it’s always great to go back and see why you liked it in the past and kinda re-live the old days between the pages.

And to get to the fun parts, re-reading fun books you enjoyed growing up. I have several friends who have re-read the Harry Potter series more times than they can count, and rightfully so. Personally I haven’t re-read too many of my favorites from my growing up days, mostly because my list of other fun things keeps growing. But I have re-read stuff like Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead several times, just because it’s been a favorite since high school and there’s just something about Rose Hathaway that’s empowering. Plus, Adrian Ivashkov. How can you not read those books for that Byronic hero type of character? Another book I’m re-reading (this time from an academic stance instead of a fun one) is Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. It’s even better now than it was when I read it in high school.

Sadly there are times when we go back and re-read something and we realize just how bad it was… Personally I had that come to literature moment with the Twilight series. I was a hardcore fan for a couple of years, then when I went back to re-read them later to see why I liked them, I saw all the terrible things. But in the end it was a good thing because it cleared up some shelf space.

To recap: re-read for a deeper understanding (or just an in general understanding) of harder to grasp books; re-read for a new experience in a different part of your life; re-read to enjoy it over again and see why you loved it to begin with; lastly, re-read to clear some shelf space by getting rid of the bad.

So, Chaos Seekers, which books do you think you’re going to add to that Re-read pile?

Books, gotta love em.

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