Reading Through the Ages

Have you ever re-read a book that you haven’t read in many, many years? Do you find that the way you perceive that book is now different, colored by your experience of those intervening decades? Or does it still hold the same sense of wonder, or the same shortcomings as it held for you back then? Do they ever get better across the years or do they mostly seem to become tarnished by the ravages of time? 
For myself, some books stand the test of years while others seem less impressive to me, their wonders more suited to an impressionable teen than to a been-there-done-that adult. But when I ask myself what exactly the reason is for this, I find it’s not easy to put my finger on. Just what does make a book truly good–an immersive experience that will stand the test of time?
Some books make it hard on themselves by containing dated pop-culture references or postulating about near-future real-life events that have long since came and went without being what they were cracked up to be (Y2K anyone?), while others seem to stack the deck in their favor in that regard by being more character driven with less detail given to the setting, essentially stories that could take place anywhere, anytime.
Likewise, certain genres may predispose themselves to age better than others. That fad driven vampire saga might not seem so…biting…ten years from now. Or will it? What do you think? Can only literary novels stand up to repeated readings? Are there particular genres in which you don’t like to revisit the same book more than once? Perhaps the very act of having already read the story and therefore knowing what will happen renders all subsequent readings not as fresh, the unearthing of additional nuances notwithstanding?
Would like to hear your thoughts!

0 thoughts on “Reading Through the Ages

  • Keith Thomson

    Interesting topic. I recently reread #1 my favorite childhood book, The Once and Future King, and it played like a overlong 70s movie with superfluous musical montages. I hadn’t thought people change, but…

    • Rick Chesler

      Ha! I think your travel analogy is a good one, too. So many places to see, yet at the same time when you have so much fun somewhere naturally you want to return.

  • Douglas Corleone

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently. There are many books I’d like to return to — to see how this or that was accomplished. But every time I pick up a book I’ve already read, I look at the hundreds of books I have that haven’t been read and think forget it, life’s too short and there are too many good books out there. I read my own books one last time once the final product is released, but I don’t even re-read them again, and I doubt I ever will. Thanks for the great article, Rick.

    • Rick Chesler

      That’s true that to ready any book again is quite a decision since there are already more books out there than any one person can ever read. So it must be extremely compelling in order to say ‘I’ve got to read that again!’ rather than experience something new.

      • Keith Thomson

        Good point. Especially for the escapist reader. If you’ve been to Bangkok, you want to go back, but you’d rather check out Kathmandu. I’m with you. With only one or two exceptions ever (see comment below).

  • blsmadden

    Even if some re-reads aren’t as fresh and exciting anymore, many work well as comfort reading. In a sense, then, I think they stand the test of time, just in a different way.