Primarily, this is because life is short and books are many. My to-read list (AKA, the wait list) is seriously long and overpopulated with many wonderful, exciting and worthy works that I very much want to read. And I'll never be able to read them all, but at the same time don't want to miss out on a new experience by re-reading an old favorite.
Yet they are favorites for a reason. And favorites are the only reason I re-read in the first place.*
*sidenote: actually not 100% true. One time I accidentally re-read Crabwalk by Gunter Grass thinking I had never read it before. The book was so boring and unmemorable that I actually got 3/4 of the way through before I realized that I remembered how it ended. :|
For me, favorite books are actually quite rare. I have read many books that I like and have enjoyed immensely, but there is a certain quality to those that are re-readable that makes them almost demand a second look.
I think that quality can best be defined as a sort of complexity which requires a second reading in order to develop the fullest possible appreciation for the work. This complexity in itself is a very delicate balance. The book has to be complex enough to require a second reading, but not so complex as to be initially off-putting in the first place, or so complex that I don't feel I would really "get" the book even if I read it a second time.
So here I would like to discuss two of my all-time favorite re-read books, and give a bit of an explanation for how they managed to pull me in a second (or third) time.
Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake
|Just so good.|
I am actually re-reading Oryx and Crake right now. It is the seed for this blogpost. Prior to reading this book, I was very much NOT a reader of Margaret Atwood. I remember being force-fed some poetry in high school, but generally speaking I was quite ambivalent about reading any of her novels. But Oryx and Crake pulled me in; I could not resist the surreal, dystopian future and hopeless reminiscences of Snowman. It is just such a good book, and it's an even better book the second time around. The first time it is profoundly interesting, but I feel like all of the details and subtleties were lost on me. I needed to read it a second time to really pick everything up in full detail. Another reason why I am re-reading Oryx and Crake is because for a couple of years now I've had the sequel/prequel The Year of the Flood on my bookshelf, beckoning me to read it. And I couldn't very well do that without first revisiting the book that started it all. If you haven't read it, and especially if you generally dislike Atwood, I urge you to give Oryx and Crake a try. It is such a marvelous book in so many ways.
Haruki Murakami's Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World
|I love this book more than chocolate.|
In addition to possibly being my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE BOOK, EVER, Haruki Murakami's End of the World also has the distinction of being the only work of adult fiction that I have read three times.*
*sidenote: Now is not the time to discuss how many DOZENS of times I read (or had read to me) Art Cummings' There's a Monster Eating my House, an absolutely riotous children's book which is sadly out of print, but which I am grateful to have a copy of. Another blog post, another day.
End of the World captures the exact essence of what makes a book re-readable for me. It is an amazingly detailed magical realist novel (my favorite genre) which is at once thoroughly engrossing but also highly complex. The first time I read this book I loved it. The second time I read it I understood it. And the third time I was able to relax into the book like the most comfortable of old sweaters. It is a brilliant story about the nature of the mind and reality, and is my favorite out of many great works by Murakami. To say I recommend this book would obviously be an understatement... I practically go around giving out copies of this one (actually have done this on people's birthdays). It is simultaneously challenging and fascinating. And the alternating dual-perspective chapters come together in such a brilliant way to culminate in a frustratingly wonderful cliffhanger ending. READ THIS BOOK.
I'm somewhat hard-pressed to think of many more books I've re-read. The re-read is a rare title in my reading universe, reserved only for those works that I hold in the absolute highest regard. May there be more of them in the future... but not too many...