There was a period of time, when Spencer was about 3 or 4 years old, when he watched “That Thing You Do” almost daily. It was a very effective tool in parenting because he would do just about anything to ensure that he could set up his “drums” (lincoln logs and a box) and play along with “The Wonders”. I marveled that he could revisit that story over and over and find it entertaining each time.
Back in college I studied literature and read a LOT of novels. The pace was fast and I felt pleased just to be able to keep up with the reading each week. Imagine my surprise (and I must admit, shock) to find that a fellow classmate was re-reading all the novels in preparation for our semester exams. I couldn’t imagine how she found the time – and I didn’t really see the benefit, since I felt like I remembered each novel well enough to think and write about it competently.
For many years, I plowed through novels as fast as I could, rarely revisiting any but the most beloved (Anne of Green Gables, I’m looking at you!) And then I started logging my reading at www.librarything.com. I quickly became enamored of the idea of reviewing the books I read – making notes about my reactions and thoughts. As I started logging books I remembered reading, I realized I would need to re-read some of them in order to write a review. One of those books was a book club read – The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. What I remembered of the book was a strong, negative emotional reaction to the story. But I didn’t remember why, so I re-read the novel. For the first time I realized the value of repetition apart from having a cozy return to a favorite story. My reaction to a second reading of The Poisonwood Bible was completely different. I really enjoyed the story and found lots to think about and consider. I wondered why my reactions had been so different to the same story. I started re-reading more novels. The Great Gatsby was one I heartily disliked in high school – would I like it any better as an adult? (Not really, though I can appreciate the quality of the writing). How about Wuthering Heights? (Still annoying) The Old Man and the Sea? (Surprisingly beautiful).
I’ve though a lot about this idea of repetition. I still don’t know what Spencer got out of re-watching his movie so many times, though it is common knowledge that little kids learn best through repetition. But over the years I’ve begun to realize that repetition works for me too. My life experiences can change the reactions and interactions I have with literature. Things begin to resonate in ways they didn’t when I was younger. I see more connections as I become more familiar with the text. My college friend was on to something with her re-reading of our assigned novels.
One last thought – there is one set of books that I have re-read my whole life. As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I plowed my way through The Book of Mormon at the age of 12 (I say “plow” because I understood only a fraction of what I was reading but kept at it till I reached the end) and by the age of 18 I had read every word of the Old Testament, the New Testament, The Book of Mormon (again), and The Doctrine & Covenants (all considered holy scripture). I turned around and read them all again in college and then again as a missionary. Over the years I have continued to re-read and ponder and make notes and study these four books. I am frequently surprised by the insights I have when reading verses that feel so very familiar. In John 17:3 the Savior declares, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” What better way to know God & Jesus Christ than to know thoroughly the words they gave us in scripture?
I may have been young and foolish when I dismissed my classmates’ habit of re-reading novels but I hope I have learned better. Spencer had the right idea all along – you can never have too much of a good thing!