Every so often I’ll be listening to the radio and someone will say that they like to reread books. They talk about how they read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ at least once a year and how they will regularly revisit their Dickens or ‘Catcher in the Rye’. ‘Can’t you just remember the moment when you first finished ‘1984’ and compare that with how it makes you feel when you read it now?’ Well frankly, no.
When I was a child I reread books all the time. There were two reasons for this. Firstly, I had bags of time. There were barely any other distractions and I liked nothing more than to slink off to some quiet part of the house and settle down with the Secret Seven or ‘Little Women’ or whatever it was that day. Secondly, there just weren’t that many books available to me. There were plenty of books to choose from at home and I was an active library member but it was nothing in comparison to the number of books that are aimed at my children. There were the classics, what we would now call modern classics and Enid Blyton. So I tended to reread them over and over.
Fast forward to life now. I can’t remember the last time that I read a book more than once unless required to do so by my book group. This is because there are so many new things that I want to try. Reading time is so precious now that I am always trying to cover new ground rather than tread the tried and tested. There are so many good books out there with more being published all the time. And I only dip my toe into fiction. What about all the rest of it? Biography, autobiography, science, nature, history. I could go on and on.
But then I wonder whether I am missing a trick. Perhaps there are comforts to be gained and insights to be found by rereading books from my past? It would certainly be cheaper and my house is full to the gunnels of books read once and then parked on shelves to gather dust like some kind of trophy. Maybe I should make them earn their keep?
Basically the problem is that there are too many books and too little time. I can’t make more time. Maybe I could try to learn to read faster! You hear tell of people who have perfected the art of speed reading, devouring Middlemarch in an afternoon. There are apps that you can download to train yourself to do it in all the spare time that you have when you are not actually trying to read. But reading too quickly stops me thinking about what I have read and where’s the point of that?
Perhaps I should just resign myself to the fact that whichever way I look at it there is never going to be enough time to read new and reread old and I will just have to choose. In which case, I’m sorry worthy Radio 4 people but I pick new every time. There is too much fabulous stuff out there to stomp over old ground and how else will I discover the books that I may really want to read more than once?!