Do It Again: Lazy, Hazy Summer Perfect Time for Guilt-Free Rereading

Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, July 26, 2009 | Go to article overview
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Do It Again: Lazy, Hazy Summer Perfect Time for Guilt-Free Rereading


The lazy, hazy dog days of summer are the perfect time to enjoy books in a leisurely fashion, and all the better if that reading is combined with the opportunity to bask in fine weather -- or while away a rainy day.

From beaches to backyard hammocks, patios to porches, 'tis the season to savor reading as an antidote to workday stress. And for such purposes, there's often nothing more enticing than rereading a favorite book.

Yet rereading has a mixed reputation. There are those who consider it a form of intellectual laziness, something to feel guilty about. But who doesn't return to at least a few books again and again over the years to refresh one's grasp of great thinkers' insights, to seek perspective attainable only with time's passage or just to relive a memorably great read?

Roger Angell, who annually revisits books kept at his summer cottage in Maine, explained in his article "Two Emmas" in the June 8 edition of The New Yorker why he can't be bothered with rereading guilt trips at this time of year: "Yes, we really should be into something new, for we need to know all about credit-default swaps and Darwin and steroids and the rest, but not just now, please."

Verlyn Klinkenborg, in his May 30 New York Times op-ed "Some Thoughts on the Pleasures of Being a Re-Reader," noted that rereading has its roots in childhood: "(W)itness the joyous and maddening love of hearing that same bedtime book read aloud all over again, word for word, inflection for inflection."

For him, rereading has become a grown-up virtue: "The work I chose in adulthood -- to study literature -- required the childish pleasure of rereading." And after listing some of his favorite rereading material, he declared: "This is not a canon. This is a refuge."

Picking up on Klinkenborg's comment, David Gates drew a striking analogy in his July 13 Newsweek article "Now, Read it Again": "Most of us ... have our own musical canon -- or why do they sell so many iPods?.... If you've got Talking Heads on your iPod, why would you want to hear this loony music only once in your life?"

The same could be said of movies and TV shows. If people didn't want to experience them again and again, there would be no market for movies and TV shows on DVDs. So why shouldn't rereading be similarly guilt-free?

As Klinkenborg pointed out, even a reader who devours as wide a range of books as possible will never get through more than a tiny portion of all the world's books.

And a lot of those books wouldn't exist if not for rereading. Consider how many great books, some of which have endured for centuries, have resulted from reconsideration of the works of ancient Greek and Roman authors.

Such reconsideration surely required more than one quick run through those ancients' seminal Western texts.

Though just about all of today's readers often feel pressed to find reading time amid hectic schedules and lifestyles, it's important for them to remind themselves that reading is not a race. So the notion of going "one lap down" with each book reread is nonsense.

Readers have all year to read what they must. This time of year is for reveling in reading what one wants to read, especially if it's something one has read before.

Worth repeating

"Any book, which is at all important, should be reread immediately." -- German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)

"The greatest pleasure of reading consists in rereading." -- British author Vernon Lee (1856-1935)

"Let us read good works often over. Some skip from volume to volume, touching on all points, resting on none. We hold, on the contrary, that, if a book be worth reading once, it is worth reading twice, and that if it stands a second reading, it may stand a third." -- Scottish author George Gilfillan (1813-1878)

SHELF LIFE: Rereading part of library theme for summer

Rereading is an important part of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's summer reading theme for adults, "Reduce, Reuse, Reread" -- a timely slogan in a number of ways.

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Do It Again: Lazy, Hazy Summer Perfect Time for Guilt-Free Rereading
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