I find myself facing a dilemma that I think all prolific readers and anyone who appreciates the inner/philosophical life finds himself facing. Lately, now that I FINALLY have a job I can leave at work, giving me more free time, the reader’s dilemma is hitting me hard.
We all have limited time to devote to reading. So when we can read, WHAT should we read? The choices feel limitless. Really, though, I find that for me personally the attractions fall into two camps:
- REREAD BOOKS THAT HAVE TOUCHED ME. There are SO many books, fiction and nonfiction alike, that have taught me something about myself and/or the human condition. So many books I have read once or twice, books that I know, as long as it’s been since I’ve read them, would teach me something very different than what I got out of them the first time around.
- READ SOMETHING NEW. Over the last year I’ve given way to a new passion, theology. So I am feeling a strong pull to read more and read deeper into theology especially, as well as lots of fiction I’ve never read before.
This is the reader’s dilemma: To read something new or to reread something?
As a writer, other thoughts come into play. Everything I read helps me evolve and to inspire me as an author. So does it make sense to reread the books that have touched me the most, to get the most out of them? Or is exposure to new material equally/more beneficial?
There’s no set answer and no right response. And really, it’s not a major problem in the grand scheme of life; no one could honestly consider it that. But it’s interesting nonetheless.
My favorite English teacher from high school, the one who taught me to think critically and to organize my thoughts when I was writing, taught the class I took on British literature. She told us there were two books she recommended we reread in our 20s: “Wuthering Heights” and “Cry, the Beloved Country.” I’ve reread neither of them.
The books I feel tempted to reread are classics, though. “The Once and Future King” just destroys me every time I read it. I love Arthurian legend. “Don Quijote” is always worth another go, and I haven’t read it since leaving grad school. I only read “Lord of the Rings” once, ten years ago.
It’s kind of fascinating to see the dynamic of the reader’s dilemma at play. I’ve never been able to pay it attention because it was always null and void for me; for most of my life I was in school and had SO much assigned reading that I had little to no time to even consider reading what I wanted to.
If nothing else, the reader’s dilemma is a cool reminder that as awesome as literature is, and much as reading can teach us, it can’t fulfill us or satisfy our hearts. There are far more important things. In my opinion, reading is useful as a tool to point us onward, to direct our searching. It’s a means to an end, not an end in itself.
I decided to write about the reader’s dilemma because I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s faced this and I thought it would be fun to discuss as a common experience. I’m curious as to what choices other readers make in the midst of the reader’s dilemma and why. Do you read multiple books at once? Do you just go with what you’re feeling at the moment? Are there certain books, one or two maybe, that you make sure to reread on a regular basis? f you’d like to comment, feel free to do so!
One thing that occurs to me is to stagger my reading: follow up a reread with new material, and then reread something else (if I feel so inclined at that point).