In praise of re-reading

I know someone who re-reads books as a habit. When I first heard this, I could barely hide my incredulity: “but why?” In my land, there are just too many books to do this. As I have stated, my aim is to read all the books. When time is short, who has time to re-read?

My immediate second thought was a jealous one. The books he read were full of clever-looking annotations, scribbles, highlights and a dialogue with himself over the re-reading cycles. My books are fairly marked themselves, but usually only with those initial notes – an underlined quote here, an asterisk or exclamation mark there, and only if I happen to have a pen and the inclination about me. Clearly, this was someone who engaged deeply with his reading. Clearly, I skate on the surface of books.

Indeed, I have read so many books that I very frequently forget the names of central characters. My conversations with people reading a book I have read invariably go like this:

“Oh I read that!”

“Really? What do you think?”

“I loved it!”

“What do you make of the [plot twist/character detail/theme/use of delicious language?”


In contrast, the books I studied at university and A-level (I am forever grateful to my 17 and 18 year old selves for buying my own “revision copies” of texts to scribble and highlight on) are a godsend when I come to teach a text. That hard “thinking work”, which I seem to find increasingly hard to do as term progresses, is already done. I can choose the quotes I want my students to analyse with ease – they are already highlighted. I can even do Ms Moran’s amazing trick: “I’ve made C-grade annotations – now, you add your A* insights”, a task a blank page on a busy lesson-planning Wednesday makes me despair at.

I’m preparing to teach some texts next year which I have read already, and I am determined to alter my wayward ways. I have re-read “An Inspector Calls”, “Waiting for Godot” and “The Yellow Wallpaper”, among others, and I have been strict with myself about making at least two annotations on every page (though, with “Inspector”, it was more like ten – either the text is thechoice for AQA Modern Texts, or I was having a brainy/non-lazy day – I’m not altogether sure). It has been so long, around ten years, since I last picked any of these texts up, that I could really enjoy this re-reading, and I definitely feel I can have a more intelligent conversation with anyone, in particular my future students, about them.

And perhaps, after all, this is the other great part of being an English teacher. Paid to read widely to recommend books to read for enjoyment; paid for reading closely to elucidate or encourage deeper readings for students. And right now, paid to read in the sun. What a life! Don’t tell the taxpayer…

annotated text


1 thought on “In praise of re-reading

  1. Pingback: A guide to this blog | Reading all the Books

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