Whether we like it or not, we belong to a ‘throw away’ culture, and that is as true of literature as it is our other purchases. Most of us could not possibly keep all the books we read unless we lived in a library or large warehouse. So, we pass finished novels to friends or into the second-hand market. That’s not bad, at least it’s recycling.
Mostly, I suspect, we read our books once and then move on, as if all the pleasure is in that first read. Sometimes it is. Not all writing can entertain us a second time, even if we read several other authors before a re-read. This is as true of short stories as it is of novels, poetry or scripts. Some things do need only one look for us to absorb their story.
However, I believe that for most of us, moving onto the next book has become a habit, and that’s a shame. A lot of stories, especially many of the short ones, have more to offer when we read them a second, or even third, time.
Often, our first read is fast. We are involved with events and looking forward to what happens next. We develop a rhythm of page turning that is difficult to break. Besides, page turning is good. Why should we want anything else?
Well, first let me say that I’m not talking literary analysis here. Re-reading is a pleasure, not homework. My pitch is that re-reading is a chance to really explore what the writer is saying, and to discover that it may not be what you first thought.
When you re-read you already know where the story is going, so you can read more slowly. This can take some getting used to, but try thinking of it as cycling along a country lane. When we stop, the grass verge is no longer just a green blur. We see that it is made up of a variety of shades and textures, and even that there are small flowers on it.
In a re-read you will have time to notice similar treasures. The repeated images, clever twists in vocabulary, hidden jokes and a hundred other tricks that any writer might employ suddenly come into view.
What is the story really saying then? That’s up to you. You are an active, rather than passive reader, now.