Reading books is a much extended practice, but what about re-reading them?
As art goes, almost all of its forms can be, and tend to be, re-experienced by their audience. Movies are watched more than once, songs are replayed, monuments are revisited… but in all fairness and respect to those disciplines, the experience is quite ephemeral if compared to going through an entire a book for the second time. We have all come across Die Hard one hour in while zapping and merrily watched it from there. We have all turned on the car radio and got blasted by Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart, and it didn’t matter that we’ve heard it a zillion times already; we sang it to the end like it was the first time. In both cases it’s just a matter of devoting a short while to the task; it takes hours when not minutes. But re-reading a book? That is quite a quest.
For starters, the consumption of a book is a lengthy process. We hardly ever finish a book the same day that we started it, and if we do, our brains are completely cooked by the end of the session. Literature is a form of storytelling that invites the reader to take his time to digest the content of its pages. This permits authors to elaborate more complex and detailed stories than in other narrative art disciplines. Moreover, if reading a book is such a tenuous process, why undergo it for a second time? Well, according to psychology professor Nicholas Christenfeld, from the UC San Diego, spoilers, rather than ruining stories, make them more enjoyable. At first it must sound like this so called professor has no clue about life, but think about it.
Take a mystery novel, for instance; your average whodunit. You spend the whole length of it so sure that it is the butler who poisoned the Lord’s brandy, but when the final act kicks in, it is revealed that it was in fact the Baroness. Big shock; everybody in the scene totally loses it. Then follows a tenuous chronicle of how she did it; a montage of her past actions and lines, now revised under the lens of knowing that she is the murdered. This plot twist is to this movie what Keyser Söze’s identity was to Unusual Suspects, which leads you to believe that there is no point in going through all the suspense again when you already know what’s gonna happen in the end.
That’s where you’re wrong, kiddo.
The fact that a narrator purposefully misleads you to postpone the revelations until the moment in which they are most striking means that they’ve left a whole list of clues hidden throughout the story for you to find. In the case of movies, due to running time, these clues might not be that many or may be just hidden in plain sight, but in books the author has hundreds of pages full of words that can have a completely new meaning now that you come back at them with new information. Re-reading books is such a unique experience because the narrator cannot change the angle of the shot and put your attention elsewhere; the elements that hint the events to come are right there, veiled by semantics. But a novel doesn’t need to be full of plot twists to be enjoyable in a re-reading. The simplest things, like character descriptions and dialogues, gain completely new meanings in a re-reading. Plus, books offer you the advantage of reading lines or paragraphs as many times as you want (or need) to, allowing you to take a careful pace towards the resolution of the plot. Imagine pausing a movie every two minutes and watching every scene twice or thrice, not to mention whatever chords of the soundtrack play during those few moments; what a nightmare.
All in all, re-reading is a practice that offers opportunities like no other art experience does. It offers a meticulous journey through every single little element that forms a story, allowing the reader to perform the deepest analysis in search for hints of what the narrator thinks you don’t know already. The only flaw compared to re-watching a movie or re-hearing a song is that it takes considerably more time, but more time is all it takes.
By Javier Gonzales