Centireading: what books would you read 100 times?

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.

The first book that came to mind for me was Invisible Cities (which I’d argue for the best Calvino, but it would be the kind of argument where I just really want to gush about Invisible Cities and hear about why you love Cosmicomics).

Hitchhiker’s Guide, I can see hitting 100 with, I think I’m already ~20. I suppose it’s a similar appeal as The inimitable Jeeves has for the author or the article, something I can very dependably get lost in and get a laugh.

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I love Invisible Cities too, I think you could definitely make a strong argument there! I’ve only read each of them once so I make no canonical “best Calvino” claims but I think either could be a good bet :slight_smile:

This question in general is actually kind of hard for me because I tend to be a novelty seeker, but

…is a great general category of books for centireading! Not sure I personally have any I’d count in that category but closest I can think of might be like a Calvin and Hobbes anthology. I had one I loved and read a ton when I was younger, though I don’t think I have it anymore.

Another category would be books that get you in a certain state of mind e.g. contemplative, comforted, inspired. I’m thinking poetry would tend to fit in that bucket. (Or…Moby Dick? @jinjin haha should we read it 100 times?)

Hamlet might be mine, just like the author’s! I like reading it every year (currently reading it now) and taking my time with it. I always notice new details and reflect on the characters differently. It’s one of the most enigmatic works I’ve ever read, which is exactly why I keep going back to it. You never feel like you’ve truly gotten all the answers (is Hamlet truly mad? does he love Ophelia? why couldn’t Gertrude see the Ghost?) but it’s not frustrating. In fact I’d say that ambiguity is a great meditative tool: you have to make sense of all the actions yourself, and whatever conclusions you come to say more about your frame of mind, and less about Hamlet’s.

Who needs therapy when you have Shakespeare!

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