In which I outline the origin and reason (madness?) behind the way I read books.
A little less than two years ago, I was reading Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. The book follows the life of a barber living in a tiny Kentucky town. Since the book is the tale of someone’s entire life, it’s long. 363 pages long. Not only is it long, it’s also dense, full of stories and people and long internal monologues that will make you cry and laugh and want to become a farmer.
So I read it–all 363 pages–and felt lots of emotions. Once I’d got over the initial shock of all the emotions, I found that I wanted to read it again.
This might sound crazy. Why would anyone voluntarily wade through 363 pages that they’d just finished reading? Even if they’re 363 pages full of Berry’s poetic prose and vivid characters?
I succumbed. I read it again
And it was amazing. During the second read, I already knew what was going to happen and who all the characters were. That was all fresh in my mind. Instead of trying to figure out who everyone was and keep all the places straight, I could focus on the writing and themes. That was helpful, especially since I had to write a paper on it.
Since then, I’ve tried a new method in my reading. Most of the time when I read a book, I read it twice, right off the bat. Sometimes I even watch movies that way. Am I crazy? Maybe. I’m going to walk through the pros and cons of what I henceforth dub “The MoMo Method.”
1. You’ll remember things about the book much better.
Two years later, I can tell you a lot about Jayber Crow. I can hardly tell you anything about Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis, which I read around the same time as I read Jayber Crow. I barely remember anything about Huck Finn by Mark Twain, which I read several months after I read Jayber Crow. And I read the latter two books for a class, so it’s not like I didn’t engage with the text. The books that I’ve read twice just stick around better.
2. The first time, you can read the book for basic comprehension. You don’t have to worry about the themes, deeper meaning, etc. until you know what’s going on.
To me, this is the best thing about the MoMo Method. It’s especially helpful when you’re reading a book like The Great Gatsby, when there are about a million different backstories that you need to keep straight. On the first read-through, you can learn about Gatsby and Daisy’s past. Then on the second read-through, you can figure out what the literary images are saying about the American Dream. Also, you’ll catch stuff that slipped through the cracks last time (for example, I didn’t realize how problematic Nick Carraway was until I re-read the book).
3. It’s fun!
Obviously, this depends on the book. But if a book is really freaking good, like Jayber Crow, I’m not ready to put it down when I get to the last page. Re-reading it is a good way to get over book withdrawals. After the second read-through, you’ll be satisfied and not need to look at the book again for at least a couple of years.
1. What if I didn’t like the book?
First, consider whether your particular feelings toward a book reflect that book’s objective value. If the book is actually bad, then don’t read it twice. Unless you’re reading it for a class–then it might be a good idea to read it twice, just so you can crank out a few essays. After that, you don’t ever have to think about it again!
2. I don’t have time.
This is a valid criticism of the MoMo Method. I’m a ridiculously fast reader–I think I got through all 363 pages of Jayber Crow in two days. If you don’t happen to be a fast reader, then the MoMo Method might not work for you, and that’s OK. Also, if the book is really long, like 500 pages, reading it twice might not be realistic. (For example, I only read Jane Eyre once.) I’d recommend re-reading the book sometime, though, just because re-reading books is amazing.
3. I need some time to process the book. I can’t just read it twice–that’s like eating three pieces of pumpkin pie in one sitting.
OK, bad example–I could eat, like, an entire pumpkin pie–but still. This is also a good point. The thing is, you don’t have to turn back to page one the second you finish the book. I like to take about a week-long break before my second read-through. That gives me time to digest the book a little, but my feelings and memories about the book are still fresh when I pick it up again.
So I’ve outlined how I read books and why I read them that way. Now I’d like to hear from you! How do you like to read books? Do you want to try the MoMo Method, or do you think it’s poppycock and hogwash? By all means, let me know in comments!
Featured image from Unsplash.