Why Read the Same Book Twice?

Is reading a book for a second time akin to dating an ex- again? Like, what’s the point? You’ve been down that path, you know the score, it ain’t your first rodeo with it/him/her, so why bother?

As per the first question, no, it’s not like dating an ex- for the second time. To begin, a second run through a book lacks the drama of the latter (and the petty, petty fights). With respect to the other self-directed question, the point is in the details; reading a book for a second time is the difference between gazing at the stars with the naked eye and with a telescope. With an awesome piece of Galilean machinery, the stars really start to glitter.

My book club is nearing its 7th anniversary and over that time we’ve been fortunate to read some very good literature, both fiction and non-fiction alike. This month, however, one member decided to shake things up a bit (variety is the literary spice of life?). Instead of choosing a new title as we usually do, she asked everybody to pick one book we’ve already done and either go back and reread it (or read it for the first time if you happened to miss that month). Brilliant, says I.

That’s how I ended up choosing Kent Haruf’s Plainsong again this month. I purposefully chose this book because it’s not only a deeply soulful, thought-provoking read, but it’s sloooooooooooooow. My life is too hectic right now. I’m in the middle of my busy season for work and practically coming off the rails when not fighting deadlines 24/7. I started Plainsong once again yesterday and know that I have made the right decision. Haruf’s lyricism is so simple it can’t help but make you smile, especially when you consider the metaphor that I’ve cluttered and complicated my own life with all this bloody work. And wouldn’t you know it? I’m actually enjoying the book more this time through than I did the first time around.

However, I should point out that the experience is not always the same when you have a second kick at the can with books. For example, although The Wind-up Bird Chronicle is one of my favourite books and hugely impactful on my own writing, I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much the second time. Alternatively, The English Patient became more poetic the second time (and even better the third), Richler’s Barney’s Version  was even more piss-your-pants funnier the second time around, and my personal bible, Gibran’s The Prophet, has only become more poignant over the years with each subsequent read (I lost count at 10).

The thing is, you’ll never know how good a book can be a second time until you’ve tried it. Unfortunately, in this day and age of bucket lists, an addiction to newness, and the pressure to stay up on what’s hip and relevant, many of us don’t take the time to go back to the proverbial well and recall fond memories of stories that helped shaped us on our life journey. You should try it. I’m pretty sure you won’t regret the trip down memory lane in this epoch of Go! Go! Go!

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