What it Takes to Read a Book Twice

by Lee Cross

Broadly speaking we, as bookworms, should be willing to attempt to read any book once. Realistically, that’s just not possible, we only have so much time and we’re always going to make value judgments on how to spend our most precious commodity – reading time.

Back when I was a teenager and began to read beyond an average amount, I always made a point of reading books twice; mostly because I didn’t have any money to buy new books (this was long before I fell in love with charity shops which, for the twist, I probably never would have done if I’d ever actually had any money).

Still, as I got older, I became a one and done reader, like most people, and as I think on it, that was probably the first indicator that I had lost or was losing, that feeling of immortality, which separates the minds of children from the truly adult – In practical terms, I just realised I wasn’t going to have enough time to read all the books ever written, so I better get cracking on reading as many as I could.

I’m 35 now and my eyesight is deteriorating rapidly (probably because of all the reading, but it will always be worth it), so these days it takes something really exceptional for me to want to read a book twice – note: exceptional, not great, because I’ve reread some awful books, just to make sure I hadn’t been exposed to some sort of airborne psychogenic pathogen on the first time around. (I don’t usually name and shame bad books but Matthew Reilly’s, Scarecrow, was so ridiculously awful, that the second time around I enjoyed it as a purely comic piece, laughing all the way through).

“The book is always better”, that’s the line right, and almost everyone believes it (most usually including those people who never actually read “the book”). I’ve blogged about exceptions in the past, but I can only think of a half dozen to the rule and, as said, I read more than most.

BUT the telly-addict, or the movie-buff, also have an advantage over the bookworm, because if they’re not sure about the adaptations, it’s easy enough for them to revisit the movie and watch it a second time, focusing on specific elements, and settling their opinions.

With the book, it’s a much greater reinvestment of time and focus required (personally – it takes me a minimum of about 8 hours, of absolute concentration, to read a standard format 400/500 page book), and because you’re dealing with a deeper and more detailed medium (the very factors that make the books always better), it’s a lot more difficult to reread with your own particular agenda applied to the text.

Additionally, to the time considerations, you’ve got to factor in the want; if something motivates you to read a book twice, it’s not going to be any run of the mill story element; the difference between the viewer and the reader is the difference between DIE HARD and Gravity’s Rainbow.

You’ll watch DH. over and over (if it’s your cup of tea), for the explosions and Alan Rickman’s beautifully terrible German accent; but Gravity’s Rainbow you read again (at your peril) because its exceptionally multi-layered, nearly impossible to follow and provides you with an almost unique form of storytelling – you can say what you want about DIE HARD being a great action movie, but it has none of the elements that make Pynchon’s Rainbow nearly incomparable.

[I’m just going to side-issue quickly here: my body literally shuddered at the thought of trying to read GR again. It’s exceptional, but it took me a hundred hours to read, the use of a German-to-English dictionary, a dozen pages of notes – and even now, after all that, I can’t truly say I understood what the hell was going on.]

Anyway, my point was, our reading time is precious, and should be valued; so when you find a book that you need to read twice, make sure you tell everyone you know about it, because it surely must be a book that everyone should read at least once.


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