I know people who don’t reread books (indeed I am related to one of them) and I don’t understand their attitude because rereading books is one of the great pleasures of reading at all.
There are plenty of books I doubt I will ever reread because I didn’t enjoy them all that much on the first run through and hold out no great hope for changing my mind after a second crack (no, Life of Pi, I will never understand your reputed charms, I’m sorry) but there are many more I have thumbed through, either in their entirety or to linger over favourite passages, two, three or (in a few mildly shameful cases) dozens of times.
Oh sure on the second time around you know that know Elizabeth and Darcy will end up together, Sebastian will crash and burn or that things aren’t going to end all that well for Gatsby but that knowledge doesn’t diminish the pleasure. At least not for me. Instead it just makes the experience different, filling every page of, for instance, The Great Gatsby with foreboding for what’s to come and fuelling your hatred for the cunt Tom. Of course a reread also allows you to focus on the language, a lot of the prettiness of which - as a reader with a bad habit of skim reading when I get excited - I tend to miss out on in a first read when I’m desperate to find out what happens in the end.
Of course rereading one book means you’re spending time on familiar passages when you could be discovering something new. I assume that’s pretty much the argument of non rereaders (and the more I type reread and rereaders the more wrong it looks, and Microsoft Word appears to agree with me).
But I suppose the whole thing turns on what you think the point of reading is. If it’s to cross off titles on a long list of ‘classics’ or to absorb the latest water-cooler (and, as an aside, can’t somebody please come up with a replacement for that sucked dry phrase?) book so you can bore people at parties then, okay, you’re wasting your time rereading anything and you should just keep right on moving. (Of course if that’s your attitude then you’re probably a dull wankhead too so perhaps you should tie a copy of In Search of Lost Time around your neck and jump off a bridge of some kind while you’re at it.)
But if the reason you read is to enjoy the writing, to watch a story unfold and, maybe, to take a wild and purely hypothetical example, to escape the very unliterary and rarely beautiful world of business reporting, then there’s nothing better than cracking open an old favourite.
I could go on but a)my right hand is tired (what? too much?) and b) I’ve already completely ripped off the Nicholas Lezard column this post was actually intended to link to. Forget everything you’ve just read and read that instead