I am not sure how many books I have reread, but perhaps it is fewer than the average person. For me, the pleasure of rereading is a newly discovered one. Though the source material, of course, is not.
I used to take the same approach to books as I did to travel (and they are similar in myriad ways): don’t go to the same place twice. Life is too short. There is so much to read and so much to see and experience.
Then I realised that the fact that life is short might work the other way around, too: if you know you enjoy something, or somewhere, immensely, then why not return? It makes sense when we have finite amounts of time.
Recently I reread Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. I was inspired to do so when reminded of how he’d respond when people (rudely) asked him why he’d never written anything as good: “Who has?”
Catch-22 pretty much saved my life when I first read it. I was a supremely depressed 17-year-old, had dropped out of sixth form twice, didn’t leave the house at all; didn’t have a life. It felt as though I hadn’t laughed in such a long time – me, a person who loves laughing – because I hadn’t.
Catch-22 had me howling. It managed to take me out of the shrunken, desolate world I had come to inhabit, and though its themes are, of course, serious, its sheer wit and cleverness cheered me immensely. I related to its characters who are themselves trapped. I am now planning to reread the sort of books that inspired me in my own writing. Works I haven’t picked up for a long time but that might reinvigorate me during a time in which all of our batteries are flashing low.
There’s comfort, too, in reading the formative books one loved, and those set in periods other than our own – the 19th-century tales of society and the early 20th-century debauchery. I won’t take a break altogether from reading the most recent releases, but I have endeavoured to dip more frequently into the archives.
The irony is that I own a ridiculous amount of books, which I’ve been neglecting this whole time. No longer.