Is Life Too Short for Re-reading?


Friday, September 30, 2011

A couple weeks ago, Kurt Andersen threw out a notion into the Twitter and Facebook universes:

“I'm not 100% sure, but I just realized I don't think I've ever read a book (my own and The Great Gatsby aside) or seen a movie (except for It's A Wonderful Life) more than twice. (Pre–1972 TV episodes are a different story.) I wonder how weird this is.”

Turns out, it’s weirder than he imagined; Kurt was inundated by passionate advocates of the virtues of re–reading.

Kurt called his friend Anne Fadiman (who edited a book of essays called Rereadings) for advice, and instead got a scolding. “Do you hear a Beethoven symphony just once and say, ‘OK, I’ve checked that one off my list … I better go on and do the complete works of Vivaldi now’?” she chides.

But Kurt argues that there are too many great books, new and classic, to be discovered; he can’t ignore them to spend hours with an old favorite.

Are you an avid rereader of books or rewatcher of movies? Or is once enough?

→ Take our survey and tell us — and if you can convince Kurt your pick is worth revisiting, he’ll do it.

    Music Playlist
  • Over the Rainbow
    Artist: Judy Garland
    Album: Over The Rainbow The Very Best of Judy Garland
    Label: Geffen
    Purchase: Amazon


Anne Fadiman

Produced by:

Jenny Lawton

Comments [16]


RE re-read or not. . . I say both. I myself re-read fun books that are complex enough to be entertaining after a year or so wait (e.g., Terry Pratchett). Also those that say things deep and wide and always bring me back to useful or interesting ideas (e.g, Arthur Koestler's Creative Process). HOWEVER. . . I envy and value you, Mr. Kurt Anderson, for reading so widely and bringing me news of what's out there that I haven't run into in my slow way. SO. . . Please do keep doing what you do, and I'll do mine and together we'll make the world of reading big!

Oct. 17 2011 04:24 PM
jennifer ressmann from Golden, CO

I think about this all the time. There is never enough time to read all that I would like. (of course, there is never enough time to do all the stuff we'd like) But, we specifically do not have cable so that we do other things - like read. Though I read a lot of how to and never have enough "spare" time to read many novels.

As far as movies - we rewatch movies all the time. Remember, we don't have cable. Though we don't watch a lot of poignant movies. ehem, we do watch many new movies and a bunch of fluff. Movie watching is a distraction sometimes.

Oct. 08 2011 07:45 AM
Dacia Clay

I used to reread my favorite books at my leisure. And then one day, a former coworker actually sat down and calculated how many books an average person could read in an average lifespan. The number was horrifyingly small! I suddenly realized my own reading mortality, and now rarely re-read. Sad story, huh?

Oct. 06 2011 07:08 PM
kurt mickle from WDC and Berlin

Teaching American Literature and Cultural History, re-reading has become an occupational affliction for me, which honestly I often enjoy, b/c it yields new discoveries every time.

Just last night, I re-read Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird." Still love it, but certainly the text in now so much richer and freighted with meaning than back in high school when I read it for the very first time.

On the other hand, I find myself reading a little less now that I am making time to watch and re-watch television shows that aired before I was born. And I rewatch series that aired when I was in my teens. Either way, I am an advocate of re-reading and re-watching.

Oct. 05 2011 05:58 PM
Amy from MN

I have NEVER re-read a book. (Except for the kids) so I am with you! I would rather explore something new. I do watch movies more than once.

I think that I am so focused when I read, I remember so much more, so if I ever think about reading a book again, it just sort of plays in my head and I grab a new book.

I plan to read books that I have read and loved to my kids, but they are not old enough for chapter books just yet.

Oct. 04 2011 12:37 PM
Lola Rogers from

Only ten comments and already one person mentioned the book my husband has read dozens of times (and I've read two or three times), A Confederacy of Dunces, and Jane Eyre, which I and many people I know have read over and over since childhood.

A good book bears repeating.

Oct. 03 2011 04:48 PM
judith alexander from memphis, tn

the only book i can remember reading more than once is ann fairbairn's five smooth stones - & that only 3 times over a period of years - i like the suspense i feel when i read no matter what the subject is - i don't see movies more than once with the exception of some of the rodgers & hammerstein & other musicals & that was years ago -

Oct. 02 2011 08:13 PM
Jan from Hoboken

I have to reread Confederacy of Dunces every few years. Great book and rereading it feels like visiting an old pal.

Before I moved to NYC, I lived in Kansas City and went to see Manhattan every weekend.

Oct. 02 2011 02:22 PM
crl from austin

I have re-read Heart of Darkness many times. It is multi-layered and each time I read it I am filled with intellectual wonder at discovering another layer of meaning, another connection woven into this great book. It helps a lot that it is a short book and so does not require too much of a time commitment.

Oct. 02 2011 01:54 PM
Nina d'Alessandro from East Village< NYC

I saw "Tender Mercies" 13 times during its first run in . . . (1983?) I had the stunned sensation that someone had written my movie--Horton Foote's dialogue, his appreciation silence, the cinematographer's sense of space, inviting one to contemplate the Texas landscape and so much more . . .
I just loved that film, bought the video and watched it at least 20 more times. Recently, after seeing "Crazy Heart," I watched "Tender Mercies" again . . . Wow, has the role of women changed in country music films--or at least from that one 80s film to this 21st century treatment . . .
Anyway, yes, I rewatch and reread and get so much out of doing so. Favorite books to reread? James Baldwin's Going to Meet the Man ("Sonny's Blues" is a masterpiece), Loren Eiseley's Immense Journey . . . I'll stop there!

Oct. 02 2011 11:58 AM
x baczewska from east village

elizabeth bowen's The Little Girls

junichiro tanizaki's The Makioka Sisters

john irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany

Oct. 02 2011 11:51 AM
Jen Matheson from Ontario, Canada

I never used to be much of a re-reader as a kid, but then I discovered books I loved enough to rea-read I've read Jane Eyre four times and Fall On Your Kness by Anne Marie McDonald, three times. You just have to find the right book to wan tto re-read.

Oct. 02 2011 11:16 AM
Laurie Spiegel from Lower Manhattan

What a thought-proviking contrast with music! I'd think most of us listen to a piece of music we love over and over and over, some throughout our whole lives.

Oct. 01 2011 04:02 PM
Joe Vitek from Baltimore

Not much of a re-reader, tried several times to re-read Giles Goat Boy by John barth, had to put it down, I have however watched three movies probably more than 20 times each, they are Closely Watched Trains, a WWII czech movie, Shop On main Street, a Slovak WWII movie, and Black Orpheus. I think all three of these were foreign film acadamy award winners in their time

Oct. 01 2011 03:45 PM
Morris Johnson from Philadelphia

It feels like two different phenomena. While I rarely set out to watch movie a third or fourth time, often, in the midst of channel surfing, I will come across an old or "new" favorite that I plan to watch only for a couple of minutes, usually to recapture a cherished scene or segment of dialog, and then am compelled to watch the entire remainder of the film, be it 20 minutes or 120 minutes. This happened last night,when I watched about an hour and a half of the lightweight but enjoyable horror flick "Cloverfield." Since there really is no literary equivelant of channel surfing while reading (although I suspect that E-book services/devices such as Kindle may change this), the only time I wind up unintentionally get "sucked in" to a book is when I am looking for a passage to use as an example for a class that I am teaching (I am a psychologist/family therapist and often an adjunct college instructor). Either way, it is usually a pleasent experience, akin to running into an old friend.

Oct. 01 2011 08:38 AM
Mike from Newark, Delaware

I agree with you about NOT re-reading books or re-watching movies. Life is too short. I have a busy life like many do these days, and dont have the time to re-read books. And there are so many books I want to read, and movies I want to see before I die ;-) If I was a millionaire and didnt have to work maybe i would though, LOL

Oct. 01 2011 07:54 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.