Constant Re-Reader
February 12, 2015 12:29 PM   Subscribe

Centireading Force: Why Reading a Book 100 Times is a Great Idea (SL Guardian)
posted by Daily Alice (53 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
To a certain type of reader, exposure at the right moment to Anne of Green Gables or Pride and Prejudice or Sherlock Holmes or Dune can almost guarantee centireading.
Apparently I'm only halfway through Dune.
posted by zinon at 12:39 PM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


There are a limited number of hours in life. While I don't doubt reading a book 100 times is very useful, I wonder if in the grand scheme of things whether:

1 book x 100 > 100 books x 1

It obviously depends significantly upon the books, but most of the time I'm inclined to doubt it. Also, it's pretty clear that an actor's purpose behind centi-reading is going to be radically different than your average reader, and I think a more compelling one.

Is is wrong that I read the title and immediately thought @slatepitches?
posted by leotrotsky at 12:41 PM on February 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


Hamlet I read a 100 times for my dissertation
Copyeditors at The Guardian, on the other hand, don't have to read much at all, it seems.
posted by thelonius at 12:42 PM on February 12, 2015 [22 favorites]


It'd be nice to have the luxury of reading a book 100 times. Now if I could just get through the book I'm reading right now just once.
posted by blucevalo at 12:47 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is the same reason I watch Simpsons reruns.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:52 PM on February 12, 2015 [9 favorites]



I used to be tremendously dismissive of those people who had favorite movies or books who read them often.

Why not read new books? Who has time for the old, with all the surprises gone? So much info and experiences out there, must get get get. It is a time-resource issue, but as I grow older, I realize - sometimes I want my old slippers or my comforting drink or my favorite sandwich.....Not everything has to be the Search For the New (and boy, do I know that lust); familiarity and depth is an end in itself sometimes.

If you can listen to a song hundreds of times - for comfort - why not read the same novel on the bus/train to work every few months again, and again, and again? You can read each time differently; as a casual reader, as a critic, as a fanboy , as a hate read, as a way to become distracted in the rhythm of the words as they flow over you, you can pay more attention to the shape of the story knowing its outlines, you can revel in the anticipation of an excellent paragraph or dialog, you can cringe in advance of a poorly worded scene, you can look for foreshadowing, or strands of connection between the characters.........
posted by lalochezia at 1:10 PM on February 12, 2015 [15 favorites]


If that's what you took away from a centrireading of Wodehouse, maybe you're the type of person who has to read things 200 times.
posted by michaelh at 1:11 PM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


That was more interesting and nuanced than I had expected it to be. Thanks.

(Though I think I'm only going to read it this one time.)
posted by benito.strauss at 1:18 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


His point about re-reading stripping "To Be Or Not To Be" of it's cliche status is rather interesting and I never really thought about that. It seems to have made the text richer for him because now that it's all equally familiar he can evaluate the words on their own merits.

Now I'm trying to think what book I've re-read the most. I'm sure I've never hit 100 re-readings of anything, but I'm not so sure that I've never hit 50 re-readings. I've probably read the Stainless Steel Rat books by Harry Harrison at least 20 times each (except for the last couple, which just sucked). Sometimes I want something new and challenging and sometimes I want slide through an easy read of an old favorite.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 1:25 PM on February 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


Okay but if I read Infinite Jest 100 times, I don't think I'll have time for much else.
posted by Gymnopedist at 1:27 PM on February 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


I am getting up there with The Alan Coren Omnibus, The Faber Book Of Parodies and various volumes of Flann O'Brien's output.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 1:27 PM on February 12, 2015


I was all ready to hate on this, but thank gods this is a sensible person who isn't convinced that either he has a special bond with either of these books or that these are the truest, most special books in the world.

And he's bright enough to make that Catcher in the Rye connection of books beloved by unhinged assassins and dull people who have favourite books.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:27 PM on February 12, 2015


I used to do this as a kid with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I would finish it and then start right back at page one. That's like chain smoking for eight year olds! However, despite the fact that I read quite a lot now, I can't think of any 'adult' book I love as much as the couple books I really bonded to as a kid. Which I suppose probably would have been the case for the author of this article if he hadn't written a dissertation. I wonder if it's worth trying to do this without that initial strong emotional connection to a book first.
posted by carolr at 1:29 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Chop wode, carry fink-nottle
posted by Greg Nog at 1:35 PM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


I may well have read The Code of the Woosters a hundred times, by the time all is said and done. And perhaps HHGG and some Discworld novels.
posted by Wolfdog at 1:43 PM on February 12, 2015


I had a professor in college who declared about something (The Republic I think?) that he couldn't teach it anymore because it he had read it too many times and had stopped understanding it. Unsurprisingly, he was also the professor that once told us to finish the Iliad for Thursday then read it again over the weekend.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:53 PM on February 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


Tonstant we-weader fwows up.
posted by jamjam at 2:00 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's only a tangent to my own comment, but I recently discovered that - thank you, internet - I could watch Douglas Adams on Have I Got News For You from 1992.
posted by Wolfdog at 2:01 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I used to read Old Man's War for comfort. It was quite an obsession, and I'm not sure why, other then that it seemed to be a good distraction from an otherwise dark period in my life.
posted by ZeusHumms at 2:02 PM on February 12, 2015


I decided this weekend that it was time to give audiobooks a try (because reasons). My first pick was the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which is my personal favorite. And it was narrated by Stephen Fry, which I figured made it pretty much a lock for an entertaining experience.

Three chapters in, hardly a smile. Not a single laugh out loud moment. I can't tell if it's the change in media, or if I'm just plain too familiar with the Guide now and I know all the jokes all too well.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 2:05 PM on February 12, 2015


The closest I ever came to this with a book was probably when I read Jurassic Park 50+ times in 4th grade. I'm not sure if it means anything that I've read plenty of better books since then, but haven't read any of those better books anywhere near as many times...
posted by sparkletone at 2:06 PM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


I read "The Grapes of Wrath" so many times as an adolescent that my family genuinely started to worry that it was indicative of some pathology like OCD. I guess maybe I should send them this article.
posted by holborne at 2:14 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I read a Thomas Hardy book once, but it felt like I'd read it 100 times; does that count?
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:27 PM on February 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


I constantly read Castaneda's "Tales of Power," some times when I want to read for a moment I just open it and read what comes up. I have read Eliot's "Four Quartets" more than a hundred times and once a year I read that out loud, the poem never changes but I do in my ability to grasp passages, I alway find new realizations, often what I ignored before, having poor context at the time.
posted by Oyéah at 2:56 PM on February 12, 2015


I'd probably never do this, but I don't know why, as I've read the same archetypical stories one thousand times over if I think about it.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:03 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


(puts SI unit prefix hat on)
It's hecto-, not centi-
(takes SI unit prefix hat off)
posted by oonh at 3:36 PM on February 12, 2015 [11 favorites]


I spent three years reading nothing but Jane Austen's novels in rotation every single day. "I just need to" was all I could muster up when people wanted to know why. "You should read this." "I can't, I'm still reading Jane Austen."
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 4:01 PM on February 12, 2015 [13 favorites]


Hamlet I read a 100 times for my dissertation
Copyeditors at The Guardian, on the other hand, don't have to read much at all, it seems.
It happens 6 times! It looks like somebody did a ctrl+F, replaced "hundred" with "100," and then neglected to strip out the article "a." It's maddening.
posted by spacewaitress at 4:05 PM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


I had a professor in college who declared about something (The Republic I think?) that he couldn't teach it anymore because it he had read it too many times and had stopped understanding it. Unsurprisingly, he was also the professor that once told us to finish the Iliad for Thursday then read it again over the weekend.

Did we go to the same college?

I read "The Grapes of Wrath" so many times as an adolescent that my family genuinely started to worry that it was indicative of some pathology like OCD. I guess maybe I should send them this article.

Send it to them 100 times.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:39 PM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Seeing that it will only take you around 3 hours to read Hamlet (probably more than that on the first few reads, maybe even slightly less than that after you've already read it 10 times or so and know it beat by beat) you can easily read it 100 times in the breath of three weeks and still have a little less than 10 hours per day for other business like sleep, food or else.
...

//unimpressed

(Pro-Tip: With the same amount of time on your hand you could also watch The Fifteen Minute Hamlet approximately 810 times!)
posted by bigendian at 5:08 PM on February 12, 2015


If you read the Illuminatus! trilogy one hundred times, you will understand it completely. This must be avoided at all costs.
posted by delfin at 5:22 PM on February 12, 2015 [9 favorites]


If you read Finnegan's Wake 100 times, you start talking like that.
posted by ctmf at 5:35 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


This essay won my heart by suggesting Anne of Green Gables as a centireader and I am SURE I have read it 100 times and I own 3 copies. I have read "Little Women" at least 50. I'm sure it'll be 100 if I have a normal lifespan. I have also read the Trial and Death of Socrates and Descartes's Meditations on First Philosophy around 50 times, from teaching them semester after semester as close reads in Philosophy 101. Socrates in particular is a good centiread, I think I will die a better human being if I get up to 100 on it. The Descartes is not emotionally moving, so my initial inclination is to say it didn't affect me as much as Anne or LW or Socrates, but his patterns of thought in the first three meditations have become almost reflexive for me because I've explained them so many times. In the Bible, I think I've been through Galatians 100 times (took a graduate course on it, it's only 4 pages long), probably Song of Songs (a personal fave), probably the first 10 chapters or so of Genesis.

My kids loved this poem-turned-childrens-book called "Crossing" by Philip Booth and the first few times I read it it was cute, then boring, then annoying, then tedious, then it came back around on me and became beautiful and fascinating and I started noticing all kinds of things about the structure and rhythm of the poem that it took me 50, 60, 70 repetitions to find. Rereads has its rewards.

carolr: "I used to do this as a kid with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I would finish it and then start right back at page one. That's like chain smoking for eight year olds!"

Ha! One of my best friends and I did that with "The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles" for all of third and fourth grade -- the check-out card in the library copy was nothing but our names, alternating. I'm sure I read that more than 25 times, probably close to 50. I did get my kids a copy but I don't have the impulse to keep going back to it as an adult like I do with Anne and Little Women.

posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:52 PM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


It probably says an unflattering lot about me that aside from Calvin & Hobbes collections, the books I've read far more often than any other are Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide series (especially if you include the original radio series on tape).
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:04 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I loved this: "The more I’ve read The Inimitable Jeeves, the more inappropriate my theories about it have grown."
posted by spacewaitress at 6:10 PM on February 12, 2015


I don't understand reading a play any times; I've never been able to get through one. Seeing them performed, yes! I probably have a weak imagination.

Like Greg_Ace I've read C&H.. a lot of times. I haven't gone through them in years, but I still keep the books on the shelf.

A similar childhood-into-adulthood thing is the Lone Wolf books, but those aren't strictly-speaking novels, so we'll just leave them on their shelf for now.

My go-to comfort book used to be Neuromancer. I'd read that when I was feeling down, or stressed. It was an easy thing to slip into and ride along with. "Cyberpunk" (I can't even say that word with a straight face anymore) used to be the place I gravitated to. I've read it dozens of times. I don't have a copy of it anymore, but I keep thinking of picking one up again, along with the rest of the Sprawl trilogy.

The ones I still come back to, the ones I still read on a regular basis, are Patricia McKillip's The Riddlemaster of Hed trilogy. They're not perfect books. There are scenario issues. The writing in the third book is a little whiffy in spots. They are not books that I evangelize or ever suggest to other people to read. I don't know if I'd even call them my "favorite" (I'm bad at favorites). But I've been trying to write her a letter for ten years now about how much they've impacted me and it never quite comes together. There's a lot in them I enjoy. Every time I read them, something new jumps out at me; something reads a little different, this time, than the others.

I can get behind a 100-reading books.
posted by curious nu at 6:25 PM on February 12, 2015


The book I've read the most often -- discounting Herman the Helper, which I probably read at least once every day while I was in first grade -- is The Picture of Dorian Gray. I would hazard to guess I've read it a couple of dozen times, so nowhere near 100, but still quite a few more times than most people read any given book. Sometimes I read it quickly for the plot, even though I know the plot. Other times I get lost in the descriptive passages and find that I've spent half an hour and read one page. Every time I read it, I find something I've missed or forgotten that delights me as if it was brand new.

I don't think I'd want to push to reading it 100 times for the sake of reading it 100 times, but it's one of those books I can just about always find myself in the mood for.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:59 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is interesting. I've noticed that I don't really remember very much of what I read and that bums me out. I've thought about picking books that stand out and re-reading them purposely, the way a religious person might read a sacred text over and over. There are a few books I got very familiar with when I was a kid - Narnia, Little Women, Anne, etc - and I feel like they are part of me in a way that the book I read last January is not.

And I like that feeling of having a book be part of me.
posted by bunderful at 7:05 PM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


So great! I am a shameless re-reader. Books I've read upwards of 10 times include several Mark Twains - Innocents Abroad, Roughing It, Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer - the Hitchhiker's Guide series - Louisa May Alcott's Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom - Homer Price - Lake Wobegon Days, Leaving Home, and We Are Still Married. And many things I've read twice or so. Re-reading something you really enjoyed is like pulling on a perfectly worn pair of jeans - comforting, but really adaptable to whatever your life has become each time.
posted by Miko at 7:49 PM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


The first book I thought of was Eight Cousins, which I read constantly as a kid. There was something very cool about rereading books then because I was changing and growing so much that each time really did feel like a separate experience.

As a grownup Middlemarch is the book I've read most, because I wrote my BA thesis about it, but there is also a book about Gothic Cathedrals from an art history class I took that I read every couple of years.
posted by maggiemaggie at 8:21 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I love re-reading. I read a lot and I read very fast. I don't keep track of how many times I've read something, but I'm sure I've read a few things 100 times, and lots 50, and even more 10 - 40 ish. I'm pretty sure I have the first six books of the Chronicles of Narnia memorized, and all of the Anne of Green Gables series, and most of E.B. White's essays. In the dark days before the Kindle, I had to limit how many books I would take on a vacation, which would lead to me reading the same four books five times each over the course of two weeks. For the past decade or so my go-to re-read has been (eponysterically) Little, Big by John Crowley. I don't know that I've read it a hundred times, but I've read it enough that it's a part of me. It's kind of like listening to a favorite song.
posted by Daily Alice at 8:26 PM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


I speed read, but I don't think I've read anything 100 times. (Except Metafilter.) I do reread certain books a few times a year--The Rook, Feed, Paladin of Souls.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:54 PM on February 12, 2015


Definitely there have been plenty of times when I've been feeling down and I've re-read all or part of a book I love... usually Terry Pratchett. I'm not sure it's actually a healthy way to cope, but its probably less unhealthy than booze or cigarettes or heroin.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 10:42 PM on February 12, 2015


"I've noticed that I don't really remember very much of what I read and that bums me out."

I do remember the majority of what I read (not word for word, but certainly the story) even ten or twenty years later, so maybe that's why I find the idea of reading something 100 times to be so bizarre. It's like a horrific torture - take something a person loves and make them experience so much of it that they come to loathe it. Like nothing but chocolate cake for breakfast, lunch and supper every night for months. Over and over... Or like the author of this article reading Hamlet so many times that he can no longer tell the best parts from the rest. Eyah.

Don't think I've read any book more than twice, and even those occasions are very rare. Mostly they're books I read once in childhood and then again as an adult.
posted by Kevin Street at 12:04 AM on February 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


There's a bunch of books I've read 20 times or more, but none I've read 100 times. I have read The Lord of the Rings over 50 times - what, you couldn't tell? Back in the 70's I'd read it several times a year, but then I made it an annual affair. I'm a long way from memorising it by rote - my memory doesn't work that way.
posted by Autumn Leaf at 1:32 AM on February 13, 2015


I am always reading an Anthony Trollope novel. He wrote about 40, but I haven't read them all yet because I am always rereading. I've probably read about 25 of them, and about 12-15 of those I've read multiple times. With really good books there is always something new to think about.
posted by JanetLand at 7:36 AM on February 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Calling those books family is just right, as the bonding often happens in a reader's early career. In my case, that was 红楼梦 ("The Dream of the Red Chamber"). It seemed that I'd binge read the novel during every other school vacation, when time was an infinite resource.

Then there was a long hiatus as I came abroad for college and work, and read mostly only English material. About ten years ago, I decided to re-read the three volume set again (only the first 80 chapters written by Cao Xueqin himself, not the last 40 chapters by Gao E, needless to say), at the speed of 3 pages for every morning before I got out of bed. It was like the best kind of home coming. I found that I remember every sentence, even down to phrases that puzzled me back then and still puzzled me now.

In short, this post makes me want to re-read 红楼梦 again. Thank you.
posted by of strange foe at 9:27 AM on February 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


I am a re-reader, and there is a set of authors whose work I have re-read many many times over many years (LM Montgomery, Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, Dorothy Sayers - I think this list situates me in a specific demographic). 100 times is a lot, though - multiple times a year every year for decades! I don't think I've re-read anything at quite that pace.

One of the fun things about having re-read the Anne of Green Gables series so many times in childhood is stumbling on the original sources of literary references from those books (the characters do a lot of quoting without fully explaining the reference, and even though I was a compulsive re-reader I was never particularly interested in researching any of the quotes.) Most recently I read Adam Bede and learned who Mrs Poyser is (Phil Gordon quotes her "hatched again and hatched different" line in Anne of the Island). There's this sweet thrill of recognition when one more dot gets connected.
posted by yarrow at 10:53 AM on February 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm only up to five on Infinite Jest. Guess I need to go pick it up again.
posted by spitefulcrow at 11:01 AM on February 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Spitefulcrow, I've read it 4 times. For me it's one of those books that seems to contain the whole world; the first time I read it I was angry because I had so many unanswered questions, but it particularly lends itself to the kind of inappropriate theorizing mentioned in the article (the veiled face of J. VanDyne represents quantum superposition! The Entertainment is merely a metaphor for being born, and the whole book is a mediation on death and rebirth! So many theories!)
posted by spacewaitress at 12:01 PM on February 13, 2015


I think I've tried to read IJ five times and each time I just reach a point where I'm like 'enough with the goddamn tennis i don't care about tennis' and then part of my brain is all 'but it's not *ABOUT* tennis really' followed immediately by another part which says 'so don't put so much goddamn tennis in it then' and then I just go read Gravity's Rainbow.
posted by FatherDagon at 1:00 PM on February 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


"'enough with the goddamn tennis i don't care about tennis' "

I tried IJ a few times myself and quit with exactly the same reaction. Then, after deciding never to try again, I did try again, got past the tennis and very much enjoyed the book.

I have it on my shelf for rereading, but haven't managed to get to it yet.

I'm a perennial rereader. I keep books around just so I can reread them. I don't know that I've reached 100 times on anything, except maybe "A Christmas Carol", which I reread pretty much every year at the appropriate season - sometimes several times. I always enjoy it. (But I like Dickens and have read much of Dickens several to a dozen times - with "Bleak House" and "David Copperfield" at the top).

I've also read "Ulysses", LOTR, "Gravity's Rainbow" and much of the Culture series (and lots of other things) several times (or more). But I do keep reading new things as well and part of the pleasure of that is finding things I might want to reread.

The best books reward rereading with something new every time - perhaps something new that I notice in the book, perhaps something new I notice in myself.
posted by Death and Gravity at 5:20 PM on February 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


I read so voraciously as a kid, I'm sure I read The Great Brain and Danny, the Champion of the World at least a hundred times apiece.

As an adult I have a few old faves that I load up on the phone when I can't decide on anything new. Dune, Shogun, Count Zero, The Shining, that sort of stuff. Shit, I've probably read The Dragonriders of Pern a couple of dozen times alone.

Outside of Dune, these aren't masterpieces, but at the end of the day they're stories I like, stories I'm familiar with, stories I keep coming back to.

As an aside, thanks for making it so I can read books on my phone at night horizontally. 10 year old me would have given up somebody else's kidney for a kindle. He probably would have given up that same kidney for a jet-pack though, and here we are. No fucking jet-packs.
posted by Sphinx at 6:19 PM on February 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


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