Many news articles over the past few months have toted the line that millennials are the most widely read generation to date. This is due to factors like access to the internet, eBooks, cheap(ish) books, and international delivery (I’m talking to you Amazon, Verso, and Book Depository). Online social book spaces like Goodreads and the new Litsy, also help provide a space for people to read, review, recommend, and share. Goodreads has a yearly reading challenge where you pledge to read “X” amount of books for the year. It is something that I have done since I joined the site. Every time you finish a book you get to add it to your ‘read’ list and it contributes to your reading challenge successes.
Goodreads was pretty savvy when it thought of this reading challenge as it not only encourages people to read prolifically, but also encourages them to always read a new book. You see, a re-read does not count towards your reading challenge. And it is exactly due to this conundrum that I find myself asking the question,
What does it mean to be ‘well read’ in 2016?
If you were to look at literary scholars like Derrida, Kristeva, Foucault, and Barthes to name a few, all of them have suggested that one should re-read. In fact, for many of these theorists re-reading is the only way to escape reading the same story over and over again. Now, before you exclaim, “That doesn’t make sense!” These theorists argue that through re-reading, which is in many ways part of close-reading, you can learn new and hidden notions and concepts in the stories.
The idea of re-reading books is rather radical in today’s book-consumerist world. Re-reading would give you a low score on your Goodreads reading challenge, first off. If you’re a book/writing blogger, how do you keep your readers interested when other blogs are reviewing five new books a week?! Yet, I would argue that whether you are a literary scholar or not, re-reading is one of the best ways to really know a book and in many ways to really know an author.
Now, there will be books you will never want to read again. One of my first blog posts was on breaking up with books and how sometimes, you just can’t finish a book. Not even for a million dollars. Just like the books you hate, there will also be books and book series that you will love to read over and over.
If you have never really thought about re-reading books before, there are some ways you can start your re-reading journey:
- Pick books you read when you were younger. I recently bought a copy of “The Scarlet Letter”. I first read the book when I was 12. It was an extremely scandalous read for me! Now, if I have to be honest about “The Scarlet Letter” there was a lot that I didn’t understand. So I am really interested to see what I will remember and how I will see the book now. Re-reading books from your younger days will also be a great way for you to reconnect with your younger self.
- Pick books that left an impression on you. This might seem straight forward, but you should re-read books you like. Unless you are a university student writing an essay for literature class on a book that makes your eyes fall out… and then you have my sympathies (I’ve been there too).
- Re-read authors. This is re-reading for people who still want new material. Pick different books by the same author and read them. I recently did this with Vonnegut, Adichie and Steinbeck. By re-reading authors, you can learn more about the author’s style, major themes, and history. It is pretty cool to see an author’s style and direction change over the course of their writing careers.
With that in mind, are you a re-reader? What is your favourite re-read and how do you think book-consumerism shapes the way we read? Remember to share the reading love.