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Which Book Have You Read the Most Times?

(Image: Amazon)

Stephen Marche, a columnist with The Guardian, advocates what he calls "centireading"--the practice of reading one book 100 times. He has done this with two texts: William Shakespeare's Hamlet and P.G. Wodehouse's The Inimitable Jeeves. The former he did for his doctorate and the latter just for fun. The practice has had an effect on him:

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. […]

The psychology of my love for The Inimitable Jeeves isn’t exactly hard to understand. As we rolled through that strange country, laughing at the English with the English, the family was both inside and outside. My associations with The Inimitable Jeeves are as powerful as they could possibly be, a fused sense of family unity and childhood adventure. The book is so much more than just a happy childhood memory. In such ways, books pick us, rather than the other way around.

I have never read one book a hundred times, but I've read Richard Adams's Shardik about a dozen times. It is not truly great literature like Hamlet, but with each re-reading, I saw elements of the text that I had not noticed before. Reading the author's biography contributed to this deeper understanding. And absorbing the text has added phrases, expressions, and symbols (e.g. fire, water, the bear) to my own internal language. The story has become part of me.

On Thursday, Ria Misra of io9 asked her readers a great question: Which book have you read the most number of times? And furthermore: what impact has reading and re-reading that book had on you?

-via Marginal Revolution


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I have read "The Stars My Destination" by Alfred Bester at least 30 (probably closer to 50) times. No particular reason as far as deep meaning or life-changing philosphy or anything - - I am just one of those people who "has to" have something to read, and this has always been my fall-back. Not sure why, as although is is a good book and is considered a classic science fiction novel, I do not think it could be considered great literature or anything. It is just the one book that I could read, put away, and then pick up again a month later to read again and be entertained and not at all bored by it for some reason. This is unusual for me, and I rarely re-read books.
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The genre of alternate history has also greatly benefited from the development of cheap self-publishing. Most of it us complete junk. But there are real gems hidden in the bowels of the Amazon Kindle Store that would otherwise never have been published.
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Well, I don't know how many Neatorama readers also read fanfics, but it may be a promising topic for a post like this one. That sector of literature is about 99 percent junk, but there are still many stories that are on a par with some of the best paid-for fiction I've read. One must be a bit tolerant of spelling and grammatical errors, and many promising stories become abandoned, never to be concluded. One notable story, Hearts of Ice by Krista Perry, took something like a decade to complete. The ending, and especially the final line, made the wait worthwhile.
I believe that amateur writing of this type has the potential to become an alternate 'cultural commons' for the arts, without the barriers that ever stronger copyright laws are placing around traditional sources of popular culture.
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