Our Reading Lives

The Perils of Re-Reading

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Susie Rodarme

Staff Writer

Susie Rodarme is obsessed with small press literary fiction and tea. Other notable skills: chainmaille weaving, using Photoshop semi-correctly, and drinking gin.

image from Insatiable Booksluts, used with permission

image from Insatiable Booksluts, used with permission

I am a re-reader, and have been for decades now. I love revisiting my fictitious friends and discovering new parts of books that I may have missed the first time. (I tend to read very quickly when I’m reading purely for pleasure, so I miss more than I should when I’m not actively taking notes or studying a book.) I’m pretty sure that I’ve read some books more than 20 times, maybe even more than that.

I was comfortable with my re-reading until a few years ago. The Dark Tower series by Stephen King probably ranks as my favorite all-time series, and I read it every few years. In an abstract way, I always knew that the story had limitations; it always absorbed me so fully that I never really cared, though.

Well, I never cared before. 

The last time I re-read the series, I started to notice stuff. Not-good stuff. Stuff that sometimes made me cringe and stuff that sometimes I thought could have been done better. I was starting to notice flaws, and I had never noticed the flaws in my favorite books before. I panicked and stopped reading the books halfway through- I didn’t want to ruin them permanently.

I had been reading a steady diet of heavy fiction for months beforehand, and I think that had something to do with it; it’s like going back to your favorite snack food with taste buds that have learned to love asparagus. I’m due for another re-read probably this year, but I’m afraid to go near them. What if I lose the magic forever? Roland’s quest for the tower is too precious to the fabric of my self to risk it, so they sit on the shelf and collect dust.

If it had only been the one incident, I would still happily be a re-reading junkie. But there was another incident, this time with David Sedaris.

Me Talk Pretty One Day is a book that I’ve finished and flipped back to the first page to start again on more than one occasion. It’s a book that I’ve carried across the country on plane trips, out of the country on car trips, and into every bathtub I’ve ever owned. I can remember the first time I read it, curled up on my dorm bed, belly-laughing. I had it signed by Mr. Sedaris (and acted like a huge dork when I got to meet him). I have the book on audio and “hear” his voice when I read it, with most every inflection and tone memorized.

I don’t know when I reached saturation point with Me Talk Pretty, but I do remember feeling dismayed the last time I read it. One of the major components of humor is surprise, and boy, nothing surprised me. Not a single quip, line, thought, image, or word startled me into a smile. I was–(looks around warily)–I was bored.

That doesn’t change the fact that Me Talk Pretty One Day is a fantastic book that is well-written. I still consider it one of my all-time favorites; I just broke my ability to enjoy reading it with re-reading abuse. I am a broken reader, y’all.

I still re-read books, but far more warily. I’m happy to report that my re-read of All the Pretty Horses went swimmingly, while a re-read of Prodigal Summer left me a bit wanting. What I’ve learned is that re-reading comes with responsibility if you want to continue enjoying your favorite books. You can overdo it. You can see them in a less flattering light.

What is your experience with re-reading books? Do you re-read?


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