There’s an article from a few years back on an idea called “centireading”. The term refers to the practice of re-reading the same book at least 100 times. I’ve never done it; even favorites like Harry Potter or His Dark Materials I’ve probably read no more than 5–10 times. But I find the idea fascinating!
The author describes reading both Hamlet and The Inimitable Jeeves over 100 times apiece, for different reasons (one academic, one for pleasure). Insights include:
The main effect of reading Hamlet a 100 times was, counter-intuitively, that it lost its sense of cliche. “To be or not to be” is the Stairway to Heaven of theatre; it settles over the crowd like a slightly funky blanket knitted by a favorite aunt. Eventually, if you read Hamlet often enough, every soliloquy takes on that same familiarity. And so “To be or not to be” resumes its natural place in the play, as just another speech. Which renders its power and its beauty of a piece with the rest of the work.
By the time you read something more than a hundred times, you’ve passed well beyond “knowing how it turns out”. The next sentence is known before the sentence you’re reading is finished. … Centireading reveals a pleasure peculiar to text lurking underneath story and language and even understanding. Part of the attraction of centireading is that it provides the physical activity of reading without the mental acuity usually required.
A few books I might consider reading 100 times, or at least dozens more:
- Eunoia: for the sheer experience of lyrical language, continually inspiring for its virtuosity and poetic contributions, and just plain fun to partake in (particularly reading aloud)
- His Dark Materials trilogy: best fantasy series I’ve read, YA or adult (it’s both), I could see reading this to my kids and just for myself whenever I want a nostalgia trip
- Cosmicomics: maybe the best Calvino? I don’t know why I haven’t re-read this yet actually, but a richly imaginative collection of stories that I think would reward many many reads
- Minding the Muse and/or Make Art Make Money: two great books about, respectively, being a productive and creatively fulfilled artist, and balancing the demands of creative life with business/career concerns…both I think could be useful recurring reminders!
Any books come to mind that you could imagine centireading?
Related: are there books that you collect, for similar reasons? A single book where you buy as many varied editions of it as you can find? I enjoyed this “letter of recommendation” for that practice here:
To collect a single book — to follow it through generations and across borders, to consider the forms and languages in which other readers have presented it — is to commit your attention to its legacy. If you’re patient, the patterns that emerge are worth the wait.