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Rereading familiar books

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Feb 16, 2012, 4:53pm Top

An interesting article from todays UK Telegraph newspaper talks about research that has shown the benefits and pleasure of rereading old books.
(Even more true if they are FS books of course, or rediscoveries through the Folio Society!). Is making me reconsider whether I should buy some old favorites that I already have from other publishers after all!


Feb 16, 2012, 5:25pm Top

Ooooohhh ... interesting!

I'm re-reading a bunch of books at the moment that I read when I was (too?) young, and it is truly an exciting journey. I seem to have forgotten a lot more than I realized about the storylines, but another side-effect of re-reading is that I am remembering all kinds of details about where I was and the people that were in my life at the time when I read the book for the first time.

Feb 16, 2012, 6:18pm Top

Very interesting indeed; coincidentally, I have been thinking about making an effort to reread some of my old favourites instead of concentrating more on new discoveries. So many books, so little time!

Feb 16, 2012, 7:25pm Top

I was intrigued by the topic as you expressed it, booksandsunshine. Perhaps I'm too cynical but I am disappointed the article focused on "consuming" rather than reading. More significantly, the research appears to have been what participants self-disclosed: there was no objective test to confirm increased knowledge, or neurological imaging to demonstrate the brain is affected differently than reading a different book for the first time, as opposed to re-reading a book already visited. Too bad, I think this sort of research would have even more interesting results.

Feb 16, 2012, 8:55pm Top

I have just re-read Love on the Dole which I'd not read for over forty years. Now I know where I got some of my ideas about money and capital from.

As usual with a newspaper article a tantalizing glimpse of academic research.

I never tire of stopping and ponder pondering at old haunts when I visit England. It can be quite emotional at times and memories, and the emotions that go with them, I thought were lost come flooding back.

It has to be a very good movie before I watch it again. I'm always looking out for continuity flubs or awkward cutting.

Now something a do repeat often is the music I'm learning to play on whatever instrument ;-)

Feb 16, 2012, 10:40pm Top

Much as I would love to revisit old favorites, with over 1,000 books just from my personal library in the to-be-read pile, I sincerely doubt I can ever justify re-reading anything within my remaining (hopefully) 40 years remaining.

Feb 17, 2012, 12:09am Top

>6 UK_History_Fan:

My TBR pile is not much smaller but I find myself rereading books that I like... :)

Feb 17, 2012, 12:11am Top

I strongly advise you to read your books again. I find I get very different things out of reading books at different points in my life. One of the reasons I buy fine editions is to reread a "classic". Also, one's experience can be quite different depending on the translation one reads.

Feb 17, 2012, 12:25am Top

I completely agree with kdweber. I often find that if I go back and reread a book after a few years its almost like reading a whole new book. I never fail to see things I completely missed the first time. I also enjoy rereading books because it gives me the same feeling as when I visit an old friend after not seeing them for some time.

Feb 17, 2012, 4:08am Top

I agree that there seems to be an emphasis on "consumerism" in this piece but it makes interesting reading, so thank you for the post.
When I moved into a smaller place three years ago I had to think carefully about which books I would display and which would remain boxed up. It led to some pleasurable re-discoveries and the shock realization that many of my classics were dog-eared Penguins bought when I was studying Eng Lit. It is obviously time to scour FS back lists and get some good editions of these books.

Feb 17, 2012, 4:01pm Top

"A good reader, a major reader, an active and creative reader is a rereader."

>6 UK_History_Fan:
1000 books TBR?? Good Lord.

Feb 17, 2012, 4:09pm Top

>6 UK_History_Fan:, 11

1,000 is chump change. Especially if they're all Little Golden Books! Ziiiiing!

Seriously though, I had piles of TBR books, then I decided to give myself a little project - leaf through the first couple of pages. If it didn't immediately draw me in, I culled it*.

* - I only did this for the non-classics, ie: I keep meaning to read Ulysses one day. I won't cull that. But things that got mixed reviews across the board, I felt no pain in culling, such as The City of Falling Angels.

Feb 17, 2012, 4:36pm Top

I'm a re-reader, thanks for the link as sometimes I felt guilty about this ruminating habit of mine. D-OH. .In fact a reason to get Folio editions is re-reading without the experience of disintegrating bindings

For me just one reading has never been enough to really grasp a book. If it's only worth reading once, then you could as well skip reading it at all...(practical books and handbooks aside)

Feb 17, 2012, 10:35pm Top

> 11
At a minimum. My count is not exact. I think last I checked I have purchased 45 books since Jan 1 and read perhaps 5. See the issue?

Feb 18, 2012, 7:18am Top

>14 UK_History_Fan:
My own numbers are 30 bought, 15 read. I'm going to impose a buying moratorium (or try to be stricter) for a few months and get the TBR down (it's currently 185 - feeble compared to yours, but still unrealistically large in my view).

And I have a couple of definite re-reads I want to accomodate in the coming weeks / months.

Apr 9, 2012, 3:31pm Top

Many authors , on rereading in general and Hilary Mantel on re-reading Sword of Honour in FS edition

It glowed like something living amid the grey beeping machines.


(and yes , sometimes I feel like I'm doing someone else's job)

Apr 9, 2012, 4:03pm Top

>16 P3p3_Pr4ts:
It's a nice fetaure Pepe, which I saw in the actual paper, but thanks for linking it here.
Interesting how many people chose the (admittedly exceptional) Gatsby as a favourite re-read.

Mantel's thoughts on Sword of Honour prompt some reflections. I read the first 2 volumes probably 20 years ago, in an "orange" Penguin edition. I was never able to find the final book in the same edition, so I never read it. The advent of Abe etc made tracking it down a possibility, but I finally (last year) bought the "silver" Penguin edition of Unconditional Surrender. Naturally this means I must now re-read the first 2 volumes, by no means a chore as I thought they were superb first time out. All of this is by way of justifying to myself eventually springing for the FS edition of the trilogy.

I used to regularly re-read Wodehouse, but have lost the habit in latter years.
I do though try to re-read something by Joyce every June: it's like a reunion with an interesting but occasionally bothersome friend.

Apr 10, 2012, 8:55am Top

I think people re-read Gatsby for the same reason I'm re-reading Jane Austen (Emma, to be precise). The book is short. The same is true for most of Wodehouse and Waugh--but not necessarily Joyce. I'd be curious if anyone re-reads fairly long books and what they might be (other than Waugh's psycopath who loved to read Dickens).

Apr 10, 2012, 9:55am Top

>18 podaniel:

I can answer that question. I'm a very fast reader (background information). Every year, I read Stephen King's The Stand (uncut edition), mainly because it's one of my favorite books. I reread books I love and enjoy, regardless of length. The reason I reread The Stand is because I can finish off a 200-300 page novel in 1 to 2 hours. When I'm on vacation, on a plane somewhere, I just take my 1980s paperback of The Stand (complete with the old school paperback vinyl slipcover) and its 1000+ pages ensures I have something to read on the plane both ways. I took it with me to Aruba (JFK to Aruba is about 4.5 to 5 hours) and I finished half on the flight down and the other half on the way back. (I packed other books for the beach and left them behind in Aruba at the hotel library, but I always have my The Stand). It's been my constant travel companion that doesn't need to be turned off, can't be broken, doesn't need to be charged, and I know it'll keep my attention span. There is nothing worse than starting a long flight with a brand new book that turns out to be something you hate. I'd go crazy. That is why I always reread on flights rather than bring a new book. The new books are for the beach, where if the book's terrible, I can just go for a swim instead or do other things. A 200-300 page novel is good to get me a hour into the air, but after that point, I have to have another book. It's easier to just have a single book.

Apr 10, 2012, 11:16am Top

>19 nicklong: "I can finish off a 200-300 page novel in 1 to 2 hours"

Please tell me how that is possible?

Apr 10, 2012, 12:16pm Top

>19 nicklong:

I'm with Ironjaw. I average 20 pages an hour depending on whether there's a lot of dialogue--late Henry James will slow me down somewhat below that figure.

Apr 10, 2012, 1:36pm Top

>19 nicklong: Wow! I thought I was a fast reader but I only read between 30-60 pages an hour.

>18 podaniel: I regularly reread long books (e.g. War and Peace, Les Miserables, Don Quixote) particularly when new translations become available. Our book club recently read Little Dorrit which is quite long.

Apr 10, 2012, 1:57pm Top

>18 podaniel:, 19

I don't think length is much of a factor for me, though no very long book is likely to be read a great number of times: at least, no very long book that I've discovered yet! There are, for instance, the longer works of John Cowper Powys - Moby-Dick has a place with those in this respect - which are vast and various enough that readings a few years apart are apt to be very different experiences. Others - Scott's Antiquary and the early Stella Benson novels - are, to me, just charming, agreeable and interesting or amusing enough to revisit every now and then. In another category are Landor's Imaginary Conversations and Seton Peacey's Crutch, whose prose is such a joy that frequent pauses to consider and savour it probably bring my reading speed down to something typically under ten pages an hour. I can't imagine wanting the ability to take in much over 20 pages an hour of anything, unless to assist in cramming for the exams which, mercifully, are well behind me now. Then, perhaps a trained or naturally accelerated sensibility can think and feel at such a rate, as well as absorbing information which generally is among the least rewards a novel has to offer...

Apr 10, 2012, 1:58pm Top

With long books, I ususally just go back and reread a chapter here and there. However, about 10 years ago, I reread the first two novels of the Gormenghast trilogy front to back. If I pick up the folio edition during the Spring sale, I may read them a third time.

Also, I recently reread Moby Dick straight through.

Apr 10, 2012, 4:44pm Top

>20 ironjaw: & 21

It's simple. Be born deaf. Either you swim really fast with reading & writing, or you drown. I've told my friends over and over again, if all media is essentially reading for you, then there really isn't a way you'd be a slow reader. Television & movies - captioned/subtitled, otherwise you get very minimal benefit from them. No music whatsoever. And I suppose no external noises helps a lot as well. As a child, I usually read between 60-70 books weekly. No television growing up. My wife tells me (since she has to live with my captions/subtitles as well) that it doesn't really help her read faster, so I suppose some sort of brain plasticity has been involved in my case (along with a semi-eidetic memory).

Apr 10, 2012, 5:12pm Top

A bar of chocolate can last me for days: I take one small square at a time and let it melt in my mouth; the same bar of chocolate will last about four minutes in the hands of my husband. He will chomp, chew and swallow.

But will he actually taste it, I wonder?

Apr 10, 2012, 5:44pm Top

The reading speed things greatly depends on the type of book as well how much text is on each page. At the moment reading Moby Dick, it's got fairly small writing and a lot of text per page, and I'm getting through about 50 pages/hour, but with something like Harry Potter (I used to re-read the whole series that was out at the time on a yearly basis), the first book is a couple of hundred pages and would only take me an hour. Stephen King would be somewhere between the two, at maybe 100-120 pages/hour,

Apr 11, 2012, 9:49am Top

Interesting about reading speeds. I notice a big different depending on the type of book I am reading. Usually history, philosopy, literary/classic fiction, I'll manage 20-30 pages an hour.

But if I pick a crime/thiller, I will just get carried away and read furiously, usually averaging 50-70 pages an hour, which is fast for me. On rare occassion, I've read 100 pages in an hour, but that's unusual for me.

I really admire people who can read fast and still get as much enjoyment as I do at a slower pace.

Apr 13, 2012, 9:28am Top

>20 ironjaw: and >21 podaniel: - I once had an inamorata (now a physican in Amsterdam) who claimed to read at the same speed as nicklong. I was baffled how she did it. I asked for the secret and was told that she only read the righthand pages. She claimed your brain could always fill in the missing narrative. Let's hope she didn't just read the righthand pages of her medical textbooks...

Apr 13, 2012, 10:35am Top

>29 appaloosaman:
I don't know about medics, but it's certainly always been my experience that professional textbooks are one place where skimming really pays off. When you consult a textbook, you're normally looking for the answer to a specific question. If you have a job where you need to go through big piles of professional literature, you soon train yourself to move along at high speed until you spot a word or expression that's relevant to your concerns, whatever they are.

The brain is surprisingly good at that, but I did find when I was doing that sort of work all day that it had a bad habit of carrying over into reading done for pleasure, when I wanted to go slowly and enjoy the language. The solution I found was to read poetry for a while, instead of novels.

Apr 13, 2012, 11:00am Top

Nick, thanks for your answer. I do find it interesting that some can read so fast. I am also a bit concerned about the person that skips pages or reads only the righthand pages. Anyway, I am more inclined towards the ideology of reading slower. These days with twitter, facebook and other trash flashing small bits of text or information in your face is quite enough for me. People these days are too busy to absorb the beauty of the written word (in no way is the directed towards you nick)


Apr 13, 2012, 11:10am Top

#29> who claimed to read at the same speed as nicklong

I wondered what was this new phrase: 'at the same speed as nicklong'. Looked up in my ditionary, finding no entry between nickel and nickname... It took me 10 seconds to realize my error. I feel very stupid.

Apr 13, 2012, 12:21pm Top

When reading fiction I read at about 20-30 pages per hour, as I have to "hear" the voice of the narrator. It is like listening, and that is half the pleasure. I hear the accent of the speaker (if I know where they are from) and that adds to the feeling of being there. I could read fiction faster (and have done when having to finish novels for school), but I find that when I do I get a good enough idea of the story, but I feel as if I just skimmed the surface.

I am not sure if I am a particularly slow reader, as I move at breakneck speed through textbooks when I have to. I hesitate calling it 'reading', though.

I'm curious ... those of you who read really fast, do you "hear" the narration at all? Or is it more like watching a film?

It is quite possible that the habit of "voicing" the text in my head is just a side-effect from my reading so many plays over the years.

Apr 13, 2012, 12:32pm Top

> 33

Interesting thoughts indeed. Does the 'voice' appear always in straight prose or more often when there is dialogue? I like to read plays a lot and my complaint, if you can call it that, is that in acting editions the reader is distracted by all the stage directions. A recent case was reading the adaptation of Dracula by Dean and Balderston. The directions are so precise that they become a real obstacle. The mind keeps the imagination alive only to be brought back to earth by all the italics...

Apr 13, 2012, 12:36pm Top


Have you read Shaw's plays, Antonio? His directions almost turn the plays into novels--not because they are especially lengthy (they aren't), but because they add to the psychology of the moment, the nuances, the emotional undertow. Very enjoyable to read.

Apr 13, 2012, 12:55pm Top

> 35

Yes, Lola. He's most enjoyable. His directions are more, as you suggest, essays than the straight indications for stage people like 'enters right, crosses over to sofa'. By the way, I also try to get the scripts for films and comics because there is so much more information and depth involved helping to understand motives, etc. I wish all these ancillary materials were always available. A pleasure to read your comment.

Edited: Apr 13, 2012, 1:34pm Top


My situation is rare. I can't speak for others, I can only speak for myself. I'm sure and well aware that I process language differently from most people. My primary language is iconographic in nature. I do not read, think, or care about syllables. The way I think is much like painting in a way, and when I read, I paint it in my head. It's very hard to explain but I found a wonderful video the other day that literally shows what it's like for me to read. In this case, the Old Man and the Sea. It isn't exactly the same process, obviously, but this gives an idea of my thought process. And there is no music or sounds for me: http://vimeo.com/39473645

I generally treat books like a blank canvas in my mind and then create a sort of silent film, you could say, as I read. Important parts or quotes, I remember as title cards so to say. And yes, I usually don't appreciate the poetical sense that most people like. Entirely different things appeal to me. I don't ever think of a narrator or a voice-over.

If you treat each sentence as a brushstroke of that painting in my mind, it's easy to see how I read so fast (especially with all the work and practice I put in).

Apr 13, 2012, 2:13pm Top

>33 Ephemeralda:

I've had the narrator effect in my head just twice: (1) when I read Vincent Price's autobiography (I heard Price's voice in my head); and (2) when I read anything by Raymond Chandler (I hear Bogie's voice in my head).

Apr 13, 2012, 2:18pm Top

> 37

Your description is fascinating. How do you perceive and treat comics? Do you 'read' comics?

Apr 13, 2012, 2:58pm Top

39> Comics I actually read rather slowly. I usually read each page twice, once for the words and then again as I deconstruct the work on the page itself. I think about how the artist labored to put down his vision, and compare it against my mental picture generated by the words. Sometimes I alter my mental picture to account for specific features not in the words. But at times, I 'animate' the panels. Somewhat like the old video game Comix Zone, but different. Certainly animated within the panels and pan/scanning up and down. By now, I know this sounds crazy or just 'different', but nobody can truly explain consciousness just yet.

I have a background (and education) in philosophy, especially cognitive science. I'm long out of school but have amassed a small pile of books to begin reading to see if anybody else out there shares my own experiences. And most people are not aware of exactly how rare it is to be born completely deaf. And adding to that issue, most deaf people struggle with languages that aren't theirs (ie: English). So, there's a dearth of books written by people that share my perspective on the world.

Using an iconographic language means that most cultural knowledge is only passed down in person. So the oral tradition is alive and well in our world. It's just become visual. And I feel comfortable saying that a great deal of the language cannot be properly translated or transcribed into another language. As you well know, there are certain idioms or sayings that rely on both language & culture that cannot be translated accurately. For example, try Googling some of the common puns or idioms from my language, such as "time stings". You will find no results. I've found 160 matches, and none of them are valid. It's simply not written down anywhere. And yet any native speaker understands what I mean.

Apr 13, 2012, 2:59pm Top

> 34

The voice absolutely appears for straight prose, but it is a different voice from the characters (but it is the same if the narrator also has dialogue). The first page of a book will usually settle me down to a certain rhythm: the very first paragraph of The Poisonwood Bible indicated that it was written in a slow 'southern pace', and the same thing was obvious with To Kill a Mockingbird.

I don't really 'read' stage directions any more, I just see them. Sadly(?), I can't read a play without my director's brain engaged. (Actually, I really like the term 'beat' and wouldn't mind seeing it in novels. It is short, and when someone writes "She hesitated for a fraction of a second" it has taken me too long to read the description. A simple '(beat)' would have been quicker and I wouldn't have lost pace ...)

> 37

That is what I thought! I also visualise everything I read, but I allow time for the 'voice' as well. Unless I'm reading something 'light' like British murder mysteries by Reginald Hill or Stephen Booth, or something seriously action packed -- the narrator may have to step aside in order for the 'visuals' to keep going.

Apr 13, 2012, 4:06pm Top

> 40

Thanks for your additional comments. Since you apparently divert and separate the information, i.e. image and words (although word entities can also be conceived and seen as images, especially short ones or onomatopoeias) I would ask a further question (and, please, if you feel that a public forum is not appropiate to discuss these matters, PM me should you wish to continue). Are you familiar with wordless narration? I mean, for instance, the early work of Frans Masereel and Lynd Ward or the modern graphic novels of Jason? It would seem that the method you follow might change somewhat.

Apr 13, 2012, 4:18pm Top

> 41

I believe that your dramatic sense of interpretation helps you to visualize a description and hear the voices that might be involved. It adds several more levels to reading which are probably heightened by rereading. I wonder if that is easy with a dense philosophical text or a mathematic exposition. Thanks Ephemeralda.

Apr 13, 2012, 4:34pm Top

> 43

I hear the voice even with some scientific texts, but the writer must have their own style, or I give them the boring voice I call Mr or Ms Academia. With philosophy and science as with anything else, the speaker (which really is the same thing as the writer) can be muddled and boring or crystal clear and thoroughly exciting! I can listen to (or read) Neil DeGrasse Tyson or Steven Pinker all day, but my physics teacher in secondary school ensured I didn't gravitate towards anything science-y for fear of dying from ennui.

Apr 16, 2012, 9:47am Top

My aged grandmother once told me proudly that she'd read Barbara Cartland's novel over a hundred times. I didn't have the heart to draw her attention to the fact that it had over a hundred different titles.

Apr 16, 2012, 3:56pm Top

Apr 17, 2012, 8:30am Top

And here's an article from The Atlantic in praise of slow reading (of the classics):


Apr 17, 2012, 7:18pm Top

>47 podaniel:
Good article, although I was horrified by the reference to dog-eared pages at the end. Even in ordinary paperbacks, I can't stand dog-eared pages.

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