Classroom as Microcosm

Siobhan Curious on Open Salon
MAY 24, 2010 8:50AM

Ten Wonderful Things, Part Six: Rereading

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The sixth of ten wonderful things about this semester.

#6: Rereading

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:

#5: Exceptions

#4: Harry Potter

#3: Early Mornings

#2: Incorrect First Impressions

#1: My IB Students

Image by Benjamin Earwicker

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I love re-reading. Some of my books are a yearly visit, others not so often, but I always know they're there. My insomniac husband listens to audiobooks to fall asleep, so we have several I know nearly by heart.

Lately, one of my favorite re-reads is Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey. The guy is amazing. He manages to nail what so many authors have tried and failed at--telling a complex story from multiple points of view. His characterization is so spot-on, so distinct, that in half a sentence I know exactly who is talking. It also takes place here in my home state (Oregon), and it's about the logging industry and a battle in a small town (I grew up in an Oregon logging/sawmill town).

I also take a yearly visit to Middle Earth and re-read Lord of the Rings.
I've heard of Ken Kesey but have never read any of his stuff - I will put him on my list!
Oh, and I also listen to audiobooks and/or podcasts to fall asleep - it has cut into my "real" reading at bedtime, but it never fails to work.
I don't re-read enough! I always feel like there are so many books out there that I want to read, I don't want to waste time re-reading. That is wrong, I know. I have re-read a lot of Shakespeare's stuff, and Hemingway, but not nearly enough. Maybe your post will inspire me to get with the program. Thanks for a great post and a reminder.
This is my problem, too; my "unread books" shelf is always glaring at me, so it's hard to feel justified in going back to an old favourite...this is one thing teaching is good for...all the rereading pleasure and none of the guilt!
Siobhan--My "going to sleep" audiobooks are the entire Harry Potter series, plus the Artemis Fowl books. I find that YA books are interesting enough to keep me mildly captivated, enough to make my brain turn off, but not so complex that I get frustrated when I miss something.

Let me know how you like Kesey! That book (Sometimes a Great Notion) was what made me become an English major in college.