On Reading Words Twice

The story was incredible. The plot pulled me along, my heart eager to know what came next, my mind wishing to devour what new and exciting tidbit would be fed to me on the following page. Satisfied, I put the book down, delighted to have finished what I had long sought to consume. And then, I pondered, “What on earth did I just read?”

Such is the joy and disappointment of reading a book only once. Do not mistake me, I enjoy reading books for pleasure. The simple enjoyment, the rush of suspense, the accomplishment on shelves upon shelves of books. I love having the story within me. But I recognize another truth as well: the words I read mean something, and I should try to find what that is.

In order to really understand a book, to have more than a cursory understanding of the plot, you must read a book twice. I mean it. If you prefer more concreate terms, thinking of it like measuring twice and cutting once. The first time is for the simple joy of reading and enjoying said book. From this first reading, you get to know the nuts and bolts of the plot. You get to know the overview of the characters, their general personalities, some dialogue, and the overarching story. But upon the second reading, you get the story. You follow the plot. You know the characters. And finally, at that cutting stage, you understand the point the author was trying to make.

Perhaps I am biased, and I know I am, but I find that most modern fiction does not suffer from (or desire) this need. Yes, many people may reread the same story again and again because they enjoy it. But there is not much to glean from a second reading. Thus, most of us have become accustomed to only reading a book once and moving on, or reading again without the goal of seeking to understand. But nearly all classic literature, fiction or otherwise, was not designed like this. The story was a message, and the message was more than the story. And while you could appreciate any story for just that, the engaged reader knows that the author cleverly taught as they narrated. Unlike most modern fiction, no one will come right out and say the point they are trying to make. Life is never like that. Thankfully, neither are most good books. Like first impressions, there is always more to a person than what first meets the eye. So read far and wide, become acquaintances with a great many books, but get to know a few intimately with that second read. It will be well worth your time and effort.

Blessings to you and yours,

~Madelyn Rose Craig

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