Tuesday 1 December 2015

On Re-Reading Books

I am a great re-reader of books.

This Lent, I have just started re-reading (for the second time, ie reading for the third) Advent of the Heart, by Fr Alfred Delp. Written in part whilst in a Nazi jail, awaiting his death, these are profoundly powerful and moving reflections. I re-read them in part because I have forgotten so much; I am a bad learner and need to repeat my lessons.

But that has also prompted me to reflect on re-reading more broadly. Certainly, many of the religious and spiritual classics re-pay re-reading. It goes without saying that one should be re-reading the Gospels constantly, and the whole of Scripture regularly (I try to read the whole Bible from start to finish at least every decade).

Then there are those books, such as Sheed's Theology and Sanity that are so dense and rich, that frequent re-reading is necessary just to stay on top of the subject matter. 

But there are others where re-reading changes them - or you. The first time I read St Therese's autobigraphy, I found it dull and uninspiring. But the second time, quite the reverse: immensely inspiring, full of insight and very moving. And that wasn't a change of translation; both times I read Mons. Knox's translation (of course). It was simply where I was in my life at the time.

There is also what I might term comfort-re-reading. I know when Anna (the redoubtable Mrs Trovato) is tired or stressed, when she re-reads more than one Georgette Heyer novel in a row. For me, it is more likely to be P.G. Wodehouse, Russell Hoban, Tolkien, or someone else whose use of language delights...

Our children are great re-readers, too. Sometimes that distresses me: does Dominique really need to re-read Harry Potter, rather than get on with Wuthering Heights, the other book she has on the go at present? And then I look in the mirror, and consider that at the moment I am reading no fewer than six different books, some more worthwhile than others, and I relax... I don't take myself as a paragon, but I can and do justify that particular habit, and if it's good enough for me, then I can scarcely fault it in her. Her taste, of course, is another matter.

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