Scott D. Parker
I'm an NPR geek. When America's birthday rolls around, the hosts and reporters of NPR team up to read the Declaration of Independence. As a historian, I get as big a thrill by Independence Day as I do about few other things. Each year, I enjoy marveling at our great experiment, how it's evolved, and how, despite flaws, we keep tinkering the machinery, fine tuning the engine that makes us all free.
When I hear the Declaration read aloud (or when I re-read it silently), a swirl of emotions run through me: pride, happiness, awe, wonderment, solemnity. I've gotten to the point where I stopped reading the Declaration at any time during the year, reserving for the first week of July the special feelings I get when I read the document.
I got to thinking about re-reading books in recent days. I'm in a science fiction book club (four members) and we each take turns picking a book for the month. Starting in July, we've all agreed to select a favorite book* and re-read it (or, in the case of a book picked by someone else, read it for the first time). When we agreed, I didn't realize that I would happen upon a roadblock: I don't want to re-read most books I read.
Pondering this, I started to list out reasons why. The most obvious reason is that I don't have enough time in this life to read all the books I want. When I die, the TBR stack will not be empty. Thus, why waste time re-reading something when there's another volume waiting to be opened for the first time? That's a huge driving force for me and one that usually wins any argument.
But there's a different part that also wins arguments. Surely I am not alone in investing in a book a certain level of emotionality (is that a word?) on books. (And this is a big reason why ebooks, for all the convenience, will never, truly kill the printed word.) For books that really strike a chord with me, I can remember all the details of my life that were then current when I read said book. Most of the time, those memories are a time capsule and I don't want to disturb them. Believe me, I've cracked a time capsule open before and the results usually don't measure up to the original reading. Thus, the entire experience is, for me, tainted.
In a few, rare times, when I re-read a book, the second go-round is purely for craft. I did this most recently (i.e., 2002) with Dennis Lehane's "Mystic River." But, this happens infrequently.
Oh, and most of this discussion applies to fiction books. I re-read non-fiction whenever necessary.
Do you re-read books? If so, why? Am I the only one who attaches a certainly level of emotion to a book? And, if so, does the second reading stand up to the first?
*Since I'm restricted--obviously--to SF for this book club, the last SF book that truly blew me away was Dan Simmons's Hyperion. I just read it last year and don't feel the need to re-read it. I'm more interested in its sequel. Thus, I'll likely pick a favorite book that, ironically, I never finished reading back in 1995: Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow. Then again, I might just pick a Star Wars book. Who the heck knows. If it were open to mystery fiction, the choices would be much, much easier: Dawn Patrol, Money Shot, Gabriel Hunt at the Well of Eternity, The Shadow of the Wind.