Saturday, December 18, 2010

Rereading books

I have a confession, with the exception of the Bible and a few other books I do not re-read books.
I guess I always felt like I got the basics of what I read the first time so why do it again. I do not want you to think I am ill-educated, I have read from Hitchens to Hesse, Aeschylus to Ellison, Dickenson to Kazantzakis, the Quran to the Bhagavad gita. Yet something is missing.
As I prepare for a life outside the ivory/tagua tower I am beginning to feel a certain poverty of my education, in that the width of my education far outstrips its depth in most areas.
I think of my mother, who can rattle off poetry she memorized in the 3rd grade and has kept close to her heart all these years hence. I hear of people returning to this work or that work (often times Shakespeare) every year to see how it reads after this experience or that experience, and I am jealous.
I think of the conserving and centering force of this task, the digging and redigging of trenches in the mind. Perhaps rereading is like morning suffrages, but for the intellect.
And so, dear readers, I would like to know what book(s) you reread yearly?
For that matter what is the proper nature of re-readable books? Is it just something you like, something that has touched you a certain way, is it edifying, short? What?
As for me I am compiling a list of potential books to reread, here are ten:

Jesus and the Disinherited
The Screwtape Letters
Freedom of a Christian
All the King’s Men
The Sound and the Fury
Invisible Man
The Pastor


Pio Quindecimo said...

Good morning Chris,

The books I have reread and will probably reread again would be (in no order):

* Mount Saint Michael and Chartres
* The Holy Fire
* The Brothers Karamozov
* Ideas Have Consequences
* Lost in the Cosmos
* Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
* The Philokalia (excerpts)
* The Underground History of American Education
* The Conservative Mind
* The Quest for Community
* The Way of the Pilgrim
* Monsters from the Id
* A Lanscape with Dragons
* Tending the Heart of Virtue
* Fourth Mansions
* Rallying the Really Human Things
* and of course, The New Testament!

Pio Quindecimo said...

Hello again, Chris,

I want to add that my favorite chapter from any book would have to be the chapter on mysticism from Mount Saint Michael and Chartres. Here is the best paragraph--I have read this section probably over 50 times--

"In essence, religion is love; in no case is it logic. Reason can reach nothing except through the senses; God, by essence, cannot be reached through the senses; if He is to be known at all, He must be known by contact of spirit with spirit, essence with essence; directly; by emotion; by ecstasy; by absorption of our existence in His; by substitution of his spirit for ours."

one of my favs for sure--

Keep up the great work and have a very Merry Christmas!


Christopher said...

Of your list there are two books that stick out to me The Brothers Karamozov and The Conservative Mind. of the two I think TBK is quite likely to go on my re-read list.
PS I like the quote!

pio quindecimo said...


Yes Brothers Karamozov is an amazing read/reread. The Father Zosima character is glorious--even thou he was only in the first part. I think this novel is the single greatest presentation of Christianity in the form of a novel. Probably the most "important" novel ever written.

Peace and Merry Christmas,


Andy said...

I once saw a quote by Vladimir Nabokov. He said, "Curiously enough, one cannot read a book; one can only reread it. A good reader, a major reader, and active and creative reader is a rereader." I think, though, that one could argue, along the lines of Heraclitus, that one can never read the same book twice.

Like you, I don't usually re-read books. You'd think we would learn from our experience with the Bible that this is foolish, that there are always new things to be discovered. I suspect that we believe it is the inspired nature of the Bible that makes it always new and to some extent I believe that, but I've also found it to be true of other quality books.

There are some books I re-read besides the Bible. My favorite is J.D. Salinger's "Nine Stories" -- that book is like comfort food for my mind.

Another is Herman Hesse's "Steppenwolf". I read it when I was 20, then read it again when I was 30 and discovered not only that there were new details to discover, but that the point of the book was entirely different from what I had thought 10 years earlier. So I read it again when I was 40. It hadn't changed quite as much in that time, but it was still different.

For me, the challenge with re-reading a book, including the Bible, is convincing my mind that I don't already know what it says and so going into mindless reading. I think that's why a long time gap between readings works for me.

Christopher said...

@-Andy I recently read Hesse's Siddhartha for the third time. I may give it a little more time, but re-reading Steppenwolf sounds like a good place to go. Maybe re-read complete works of Kafka after my first few years as a pastor. :P

pio quindecimo said...

I suppose one might add The Lord of the Rings to a list of novels to reread....

pio quindecimo said...

...or for a more psychological novel...I have read The Violent Bear It Away twice: "The swift mercy of God."

pio said...

Hey, Chris,

Speaking of books...I made a formal top ten list over at the old blog. It ended up with several of the books I suggested to you on this thread back in December: