Again and Again (and Again)

Young children love repetition, and nowhere is that fascination as obvious as in book selection.  Ask a toddler to pick out a book and she will often reach for an old favorite instead of something unfamiliar.  My own daughter almost always chooses one of 3 books when I ask her to get something for us to read: Goodnight Gorilla, Ten Minutes Till Bedtime, or Dear Zoo.  (She apparently loves animals and Peggy Rathman.)  Surely, most of you have had similar experiences.

I try to indulgent when my daughter wants to read the same book over and over again, but let’s be honest: there does come a point when I just want to toss Goodnight Gorilla aside.  After all, I got the punchline the first time.  No need to linger!  Let’s move on to the next tale, shall we?

In the past few months I’ve read several quotes and articles on the value of rereading, not just for children but for adults as well.  Katherine Paterson, in an article at the New York Daily News, draws a line between rereading and the number of books available to us.  She points out that when books were rare and expensive they were read not once but multiple times.  In that way rereading is also linked to the ability to listen and be formed by what we read.  We might think it would be boring to only have a dozen books in our home library – but think how well we would know those books and how they would impact us!

My own hesitance to reread is, as Paterson postulates, strongly tied to the abundance of good books.  (Well, that and the fact that as a mother I have so little time for reading in the first place.)  I love bookstores and libraries with a passion, but also find them a bit overwhelming at times.  There are so many books and much as I would like to read all of them, I know I never will.  When it comes time to choose just one, it is always with a longing glance at a dozen others that remain on the shelf.  That feeling is the same for books for myself as well as kids lit.

Sometimes I even find myself reading more quickly than I ought simply because I’m already looking forward to the next book on my to-read list.  Hurried reading is clearly a terrible habit, because if you’re not going to slow down and give yourself adequate time to fully inhabit a book, what’s the point of reading anything at all?

I am beginning to think that my toddler is on to something: give yourself fully to a book and immerse yourself in it so that you can garner every little tidbit that it has to offer.  Read it over and over again, meditate on it, and share your favorite parts with your friends and family.  Make it a part of the story of your life.  Resist the urge to speed read and then race towards the next title in the stack, forgetting the lessons of the book almost before you even close the back cover.

One thing I know for certain is that good books get better with repetition, but bad books become worse.  Rereading only has value when the book being read is a worthy object of our focused attention.  This is yet another reason to choose books carefully, both for us and for our children: our kids will be reading their books repeatedly, and we probably should be re-reading at least some of ours as well.  Particularly for children’s theological books, which will shape their views of God, we should be mindful to select books that are worth the careful, repeated scrutiny with which they will inevitably approach their beloved favorites.


9 thoughts on “Again and Again (and Again)

  1. “Give yourself fully to a book and immerse yourself in it so that you can garner every little tidbit that it has to offer.” That’s so true! Good books are so much more full of life than any one reading will ever yield up — they continue to unfold, on so many levels, and we’re a different person each time we read.

    Maybe that’s why young children love to re-read so much, as well – they’re changing at such a rapid pace, that every time they encounter a book they encounter it differently, with more information and perspective…?

    • Very insightful, Sarah. I think that’s also part of the reason why reading the Bible over and over again is so profitable and necessary. It is the ultimate Good Book and full of more life than we will ever be able to digest in one sitting. And, like you said, we are a different person every time we open it up (thanks in part to its own influence on us!).

  2. A lot depends on why you’re reading, doesn’t it? I know that in my research, I’ve had to get over my “obsessive conclusion disorder” and learn to ransack certain books for just the bits I need. But if I’m reading not just for information or facts but for wisdom and enjoyment and pleasure, then rereading seems inevitable and desirable. I’ve always liked Lewis’s definition of an unliterary person: someone who reads books only once.

    BTW, the fantastic diagnosis of OCD comes from this essay:

    • Yes! Although, I wonder if there are any sort of kids books that wouldn’t be good to finish and re-read (besides bad ones, that is)? Even factual kid lit seems like it *should* be re-readable.

      Lewis’ definition rings true, but it also stings a bit. I would like him to think I’m at least semi-literary, but I doubt that he would approve of how infrequently I re-read! I’m feeling a new resolution coming on…

  3. I love that my girls make me re-read the same books again and again… in part because we literally memorize the books, and then we can draw on them in our every day experiences and have that shared experience… Berry picking is even more fun when you can chant favorite parts of “Jamberry” together!

  4. I love rereading! There are certain books that I reread every few years, and I like to think that this is the reason that I own so many books: the best of them get read again and again (I’m like a toddler that way). The rest find their way down to the used bookstore for trade.

    • Oh, me too! I actually have a kind of rough schedule for certain books: I know it is good for my soul to re-read Kristin Lavransdatter, The Brothers Karamazov, Angle of Repose every 3 or 4 years. Oh, and Lord of the Rings, and the Harry Potter series, and Flannery O’Connor’s Habit of Being. It’s kind of a wonder that I read anything new!

      • Yes! Tolkien, Harry Potter and Stegner (though Crossing to Safety is my reread of choice). Everything by Lewis, but especially Mere Christianity, The Chronicles of Narnia and the Science Fiction trilogy. Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead and Home. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. David Copperfield is new to the list, but I’ll be rereading that within the next few years…

        I know what you mean – it’s hard to branch out when the favorites demand frequent revisiting!

  5. Oh, I am so guilty of devouring new books too quickly and not revisiting! There are many that I need to come back to but have only read once, mostly because I love the thrill of the first read. I often recommend one of my reread faves to a newbie and say, “I wish I could go back and read (Narnia, Harry Potter, Eugenides Series, LOTR, etc.) for the very first time. You are in for the biggest treat!”

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