One day my IB students and I were discussing how much they wished they had time to reread all the novels we were working on in order to more fully understand them. I said, "If any of you are considering becoming an English teacher, I can tell you that this is one of its great joys." Then I paused. "Well, sometimes it's a joy. Sometimes it's tedious. But when it's a joy, it's really a joy."
This semester, I didn't reread Franny and Zooey or Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, because I have read each of them about forty times and needed to invest my time in other things. I did, however, reread each of the four books for my IB course: Talking it Over (Julian Barnes), Unless (Carol Shields), Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro) and Kitchen (Banana Yoshimoto). Anticipating having to reread them felt like a chore, but once I began, I remembered what a pleasure rereading is, and how seldom I indulge in it.
When I was a child, I reread everything, usually twice. I grew up in a small town with a small public library and an even smaller bookstore. There was no Amazon; the closest we had were the Scholastic book flyers we received at school once a month or so, when I would order as many books as I was allowed and then devour them all in a matter of days. So my reading choices were limited. I had to reread.
What was more, because I read very, very fast, I missed a lot of stuff. The second time I read a book, it was almost as new as it was on first reading. When I came across a book in the library that I had first read, and liked, a few months before, I felt a special kind of excitement: I knew I was in for a treat, but I wasn't sure exactly what kind of treat it would be this time around.
Now I only reread books I have to teach, and I don't anticipate them with that kind of excitement: reading for work, like reading for school, feels like, well, work. Nevertheless, when I'm rereading a novel I love, I realize how lucky I am to do this job. Reading Never Let Me Go for the third time made me particularly aware of how great I have it: I get to spend my time talking about books I love. I get to introduce these books to people who might also love them. But most of all, I get to read them and read them and read them again, and, if I get really tired of them, I get to pick something else to reread.
(If you haven't read Never Let Me Go, please do. If you have, please read it again. It's my favourite recent book right now, and it gets better every time.)
For the fall, I'm planning a list of eight memoirs for my students to choose their texts from, plus one full-class text (The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls). This means I need to reread (or, in some cases, read) all of them. Much of my summer will be taken up with this task. It could be worse.
Are you a rereader? What books do you reread? Which ones would you like to reread but never get around to it?
Previous wonderful things:
#4: Harry Potter
#3: Early Mornings
#1: My IB Students
Image by Benjamin Earwicker