The Pointless Act of Re-reading

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Re-reading a book is often seen as a guilty pleasure. You abandoned the endless number of books in the world, with the obvious notion that you will never read all of them, to go back and spend time with the same storyline, characters and ending. Yet so many people are prone to doing it, so is it pointless?

I would argue generally, yes. Re-reading a book allows the reader to explore far deeper than a single reading of the narrative would. Particularly, when the excitement of the first read through can encourage a reader to rush through a story and miss the subtle intricacies the author included to enhance their book further than just a basic plot. 

Re-reading a book allows the reader to explore far deeper than a single reading of the narrative would.

At school, I was forced to read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee numerous times. For anyone who has not read the book, it follows the case of a lawyer who is to defend a black man accused of rape in Alabama in the years of the Great Depression. It is told from the perspective of the lawyer’s 6-year-old daughter Scout. 

I hated it a first. What was so brilliant about this book that resulted in it being translated into 40 languages, having sold over 30 million copies and being the book forcibly read by many 16-year-old students to pass a GCSE exam? 

However, by the second, third, fourth read, I begun to realise what was special about this book. Lee, by cleverly telling the events through the eyes of a child, explores compelling themes such as racial injustice, prejudice, and innocence in a subtle way, so the reader does not immediately realise this is her intention. The level of appreciation I have for the story was only realised after my countless re-readings.

Evidently there are cases where re-reading is pointless. Books, which I shall not name, that are purely for entertainment purposes; so-called ‘easy reads’, that when read multiple times are not going to invoke any deeper meaning. This is not to say that it is futile to read them in the first place. Nothing is better, when on holiday, than a straightforward read. 

Yet, it is unlikely that the reader will gain anything more than just the initial enjoyment of the first read again, which surely could just be achieved by reading something else. A more compelling reason for why re-reading is essentially useless can be found in academic papers. 

So, is re-reading generally pointless? Yes. But that doesn’t mean readers shouldn’t do it.

Numerous studies have found, despite many teachers believing otherwise, that re-reading has minimal effect on comprehension. In fact, one study (Dowhower, 1987) found that re-reading a single passage for second-graders did less to improve their reading than reading several different passages.

So, is re-reading generally pointless? Yes. But that doesn’t mean readers shouldn’t do it. Perhaps it will allow them to explore a book at a more intricate level. Or perhaps they just want to return to that comfortable place with something familiar – we are all guilty of doing that.

Image via Pixabay

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