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Re-reading Is Not For Memorization

I used to see re-reading as a valuable yet monotonous chore that was done to refresh one's memory of a text. Of course, I knew re-reading was also helpful for catching points overlooked during a first pass. Making sure one has not glossed over anything is essential for texts such as instruction manuals. But for literature, I saw re-reading as less valuable. By re-reading a story one may find something new they had missed - but why not instead read a book one has never opened? Then every page would be new. I saw it better to grasp 80% of 1,000 pages than 100% of 500 pages. With this faulty line of reasoning1 I held that the importance of re-reading novels was to harden into memory what one had already learned.

While re-reading marginally helps one memorize,2 that is not why it is the most powerful tool. According to mp, re-reading is essential because

...successive lecture allows the slow, methodical peeling away of salient points that lose their salience through repetition only to make room for others, just as remarkable in their own way if not as loud about it.

So instead of refreshing one's memory, upon re-reading the mind becomes numb to what it has already considered. This allows the reader to be open to receive new meaning from a text.

Anything worth reading has a lot of this new meaning to offer. A piece of well written literature is a complex string that not only portrays a story but also reveals information about the mind of the author and the period in which he lived. Digesting this string is akin to viewing a detailed painting through a zoomed in magnifying glass. One can only see a small portion of the whole at any given moment, and scanning the entire thing would take a lifetime.

Given the intricacy of literature and the way the mind can make room, one explores a vast new sea of information when returning to a familiar text. Thus by re-reading one will learn as much if not more than they did during their first read. The never-ending novelty makes the exercise a pleasurable experience instead of a chore required for memorization.

  1. The "80% of 1,000 pages > 100% of 500 pages" nonsense naively assumes all written pieces are equal and hints at a gross underestimation of the work required to grasp everything from a text. []
  2. There are much better ways to remember the important points one learns from reading, such as by writing a relevant article. []

3 Responses to “Re-reading Is Not For Memorization”

  1. Diana Coman says:

    The you who reads the 2nd (or 100th) time is also not quite the same you that read that text the first time. In other words, the intricacy is not as much from an abstract notion of "literature" but from the underlying life that has to seep into a text if it's to have any chance of being literature as opposed to advertisement or noise.

    For the practical exercise: what do you get out of re-reading your own text above? :D

  2. whaack says:

    Going along with the first part of your comment, this will be a fun article to revisit every year or so.

    Re-reading the second to last paragraph, I see my mind attempting to describe its self analysis process in tandem with (or in the guise of) trying to describe digesting literature in general.

  3. [...] audience in Alcinoüs's hall. But unfortunately for Odysseus, I have the luxury of being able to reread and re-frame his [...]

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