The Millions : The Pleasures and Perils of Rereading

The essay below is certainly worthy of the re-post, but I can only halfheartedly agree with the re-reading ethos. It's true that all good novels are home to subtleties and depths that can hardly be plumbed in one reading, or even in two. But I suspect the "security" issue is paramount here. That is, we like what we know better than we know what we like. 

I'm one of the ones who claims that most modern fiction struggles to catch up with the "pack" of our accepted novelistic canon. Part of the problem may be that post-modern fiction, as that non-name suggests, catches the evolution of fiction – and particularly that of the novel – between their past and their future. We novelists are struggling to out-distance modernism, but we don't yet know how – and with what. 

image via

In his often anthologized essay “On Reading Old Books,” William Hazlitt wrote, “I hate to read new books. There are twenty or thirty volumes that I have read over and over again, and these are the only ones that I have any desire to ever read at all.” This is a rather extreme position on rereading, but he is not alone. Larry McMurtry made a similar point: “If I once read for adventure, I now read for security. How nice to be able to return to what won’t change. When I sit down at dinner with a given book, I want to know what I’m going to find.” In her recent study On Rereading Patricia Meyers Spacks uses McMurtry as an example of someone who rereads to stubbornly avoid novelty, and unapologetically so. His refusal, like Hazlitt’s, to read anything new makes rereading a conservative if comfortable experience, vehemently opposed to the possible shock of the new.



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