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.

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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!


Found this thread randomly while searching for “centireading” on google, I’m also interested in how many people out there do such things!
I’m into monastic practices, energy work etc and spend a lot of time reading bible daily, hours, minimum 2 hours.
Book of psalms over 1000X. Total page count over 135K, one round of psalms 100 pages, approximate reading time 3 hours. I take notes, write down statistics. I’ve read some of the psalms more than others so that is where the extra 35k comes from. I have different methods when it comes to reading it, traditional cover to cover, splitting into parts. Going from point A to B and so on. Since I am into monastic practices such devotions are part of my everyday life.
I read them 85-90% in non english languages, and 10-15% in english.
Versions I’ve read KJV, NKJV, NIV and many more.

I’m currently working on centireading all gospels. I’m a little more than half way through with that.
I’ve also read the other books in the bible many times, everything at least 20x, books of Moses around 50x.

Once I finish the centireading of all gospels and complete a few other personal goals, I plan to go for something again. Not sure yet, definitely something, might do something simultaneously, switch between them.


Hey, very cool, glad you found this topic! This is fascinating—

Something I didn’t really think about above (or mentioned in that original article on centireading) — not just a deeper understanding or immersiveness through repetition, but actually using the process in a generative way to approach the text from a variety of angles, explore other modes of reading and get to know it in different ways… Not sure if that accurately describes your approach here but either way, I love the idea of having sort of a tookit of different methods by which to re-read a text.

Are there other books besides these books of the bible to which you’ve applied a similar practice? Curious how you decide which books / parts to read with this particular dedication? And what impact you feel it’s had on you over the years?

You mentioned centireading the gospels as a current goal, but sounds like it varies quite a bit which books you spend time with. Do you feel like there’s a certain point at which you’ll have read a given book “enough” or more that it’s valuable as an indefinite, ongoing spiritual practice (or maybe both)? This is all very interesting and I’d love to hear any more detail about this sort of reading practice you might like to share. Thanks!

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I’ve read the Quran as well like that, about 70 times, different english and non english translations.

I got interested in psalms while spending a lot of time studying bible some 10 years ago. I discovered that I can reach a special state of mind, of total peace, harmony and effect of feeling “loaded with energy” a trance, something I find a bit hard to describe. The book of psalms for me feels like strongest text. For some reason I never get bored of it, maybe temporarily for a few days or a week, and then back reading it.

Ah the impact is very positive, I feel very peaceful all the time. I meditate using prayer beads as well and there it’s all about repeating something over and over again, mantras. I’ve followed different paths,mantra practices and hesychasm. You have to the check google about that :slight_smile:

I think with some text you can feel like completing it, and consider it enough. With these books I might get bored of them for a while, especially books of Moses but with psalms I feel the text is indefinite, endless loop effect. With books of Moses I hit a brick wall very fast, they are so complex but at the same time everything can become repetitive so quickly. I’ve once read them through 5 times straight and then I felt like I could not continue anymore.
I might not be able to finish the gospel centireading plan that fast, but definitely at some point it will be done. I really enjoy reading these a lot!

With that many rounds I feel that the text has so much to offer, so much more, I get more thoughts and see the people, situations from a different angle. Some of the texts are so complex that they have a lot to offer even after 10 20 50x times.

I also read other books by these authors: Osho, Castaneda, Eckhart Tolle, Michael Newton, I can’t see myself centireading those. Some others, can’t remember the names right now.


What a great concept! Before I even opened this page, just from the title I immediately went to Hamlet, so it was funny to see it mentioned in the article. The Odyssey is the other book that immediately comes to mind. Both of those I’ve read enough times to have lost count, but nowhere near 100!

When I first read Dostoevsky’s The Idiot I turned from page 597 to page 1 to start all over again immediately (and chased it with Kurosawa’s remarkable 1950 3 hour film version). I can imagine reading (a different translation, I hope) of that again.

Wolfram’s Parzival I have read only once thus far, but can’t wait to read it again and again and again. I was startled to find Wolfram’s sense of humor has survived 800 years of history to make me laugh out loud on multiple occasions reading that book.

The Alchemist is possibly a good candidate for me as well. The Tao te Ching I have been reading and rereading for decades, though not always in order.

Robert Anton Wilson reported reading Ulysses continuously, and also Hamlet. Wilson also spoke of recording the audio from a dramatized BBC radio production of Ulysses on VHS tape (slow speed for super long play) and listening to the thirty some hours of that performance over and over again as well.

There are a number of books I have bought multiple times - The Odyssey for different translations, Hamlet to replace a copy and then to upgrade to a nice Oxford edition, the Tao te Ching I have bought easily over a dozen different translations and copies through the years (Witter Bynner’s is still my favorite, maybe because it was my first exposure).

To add another facet to this conversation, I have more and more been enjoying exploring books in literary proximity to a book that is my focus. As I began reading the Quixote I also began reading The Song of Roland, the original inspiration for Orlando Furioso, a significant work influencing Cervantes’ and referred to in the Quixote. I also started reading Borges again, because I remembered how much he loved the Quixote, and I was surprised and delighted to find his first stab at short story writing, “Pierre Menard, author of the Quixote,” a very short “story” that only Borges could have written (unless some parallel Menard had done).

In terms of Hamlet, I just picked up a copy of Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and am amused to wonder what it would be like to read (let alone produce a performance of!) those two intertwined works as one continuous story.

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That’s not a word you see every day! I can’t remember the meaning of hesychasm off the top of my head, but I want to say it is a particular practice of meditation from the early days (first two or three centuries) of Christianity, that is was controversial (everything was back then, I guess), and that is maybe was a practice of the desert fathers? I think it had to do with isolating oneself in a somewhat extreme fashion for the purpose of meditation or prayer.

Okay, now I’ll go to Wikipedia and check my answer!

Ahh nice I’ve not read this one yet. Sounds good :slight_smile:

I like this a lot as a related concept. Not rereading, but just…reading as continual cycle. Of course there’s not a clear line here, could be a page a day, a chapter a week, whatever — but there’s something nice about a book as constant companion / comfort object of sorts. I can definitely imagine certain books where it’d be fun to collect many copies, partly just b/c each new one adds a slightly different angle on appreciating the work; partly just b/c it seems like fun.

This is great too! Love the idea of “reading networks”, small clusters of books with interwoven resonances, chain of influence, etc. Would be a fun way to approach a book club :smiley:

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