On Rereading

How much rereading do you do? I got to thinking about this a few nights ago, when I was cleaning and rearranging some books on my shelf and I realized that there are some titles I have reread so often that I can recite whole paragraphs by heart (and you can tell right away where those favorite paragraphs are because they are at the part the books open up the easiest). Well aside from the part where they’re written by my favorite authors, I tried to think about why I often came back to certain books. I reread Breakfast of Champions and the Kurt Vonnegut Omnibus (Welcome to the Monkey House and Palm Sunday) when I’m need of a little courage, Jonathan Lethem’s The Wall of The Sky, The Wall of The Eye when I want to fall in love with words again and Donald Barthelme’s Sixty Stories when I want to be flummoxed by great imagination. But old friends know that it is Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn that I’ve reread the most times. I read it at least three times a year or every time I see it on the bookshelf (which is why I keep it almost just out of sight). My copy of The Last Unicorn is so old now (I’ve had it since I was seven, I think) – it’s yellowing and it smells like a proper old book does. Perhaps it’s time to buy a new (and maybe illustrated) edition.

I don’t know is this habit of rereading is wise – given the ever growing To Read pile. I’d feel a little bad about it, because I always complain that there’s so little time and so many new books to read, but then how can any of it be a waste if you’re reading words that move you, no matter how familiar they are? What keeps you coming back to a book? Is it the hopes of discovering something you had missed before? Or is it the revisiting of familiar but still meaningful passages? And what are the books you keep rereading?

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