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On Rereading Hardcover – December 1, 2011

ISBN-13: 978-0674062221 ISBN-10: 0674062221

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press (December 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674062221
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674062221
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.8 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,213,163 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


[A] charming and strange blend of memoir, literary criticism, and scientific treatise. (Nathaniel Stein New Yorker blog 2011-11-02)

An absorbing, detailed account of books [Spacks] has reread over the years. (Fatema Ahmed Prospect 2011-11-01)

Patricia Meyer Spacks, who has taught literature at a number of distinguished colleges and universities over the past half-century--she is now the Edgar Shannon Professor of English Emerita at the University of Virginia--is something of a rarity among those who practice her trade these days: She reads for pure pleasure as well as for professional obligations, and she understands that pleasure is a legitimate, valuable goal in and of itself. Reading fiction has the power to expose one to large truths about human existence, but there is more to it than that...An excellent book. (Jonathan Yardley Washington Post 2011-11-18)

Spacks questions many of her past literary judgments with candor and harsh self-criticism, emphasizing that rereading explores "new ground" and is never dispassionate...An insightful and compelling book that will appeal to all fans of literature and students of literary theory. (Erica Swenson Danowitz Library Journal 2011-12-01)

A book remains the same through time, but the context and personality of the reader don't. Whether the consequence is nostalgia or embarrassment can be the luck of the draw. Some of the most interesting material in On Rereading concerns the bewilderment that can occur upon revisiting a once-beloved work and finding that the thrill is gone. (Scott McLemee Inside Higher Ed 2011-12-21)

An interesting hybrid of literary criticism and memoir...Spacks' book, particularly her first chapter which I think is her best chapter, is worth the read if you've ever been interested in this question of why we read the same books over and over. But, fair warning, you'll probably feel the urge to pick up an old favorite as soon as you're done. (Aia A. Hussein Austenprose 2012-01-21)

Spacks is charming and pellucid in recounting her sense of why we reread a book and how frequently we find the experience a shock to our expectations. (Eric Banks Bookforum 2012-04-01)

[A] remarkable meditation…Words such as 'joy,' 'enjoy' and 'pleasure' recur throughout the study; and while it might be refreshing in itself to hear such unfashionable words bandied about, Spacks's true achievement lies in her insistence that they belong in the same world as more rigorously analytical terms and ideas…The analysis of pleasure, the pleasure of analysis: the twinning of these qualities underlies the most illuminating chapters of On Rereading, in which Spacks revisits works that once bored or repelled her, and ones for which her initial enthusiasm may have been ephemeral. (Bharat Tandon Times Literary Supplement 2012-04-13)

[An] erudite and often surprising book...There is plenty to think about and argue with throughout this book...On Rereading brings a sharp, questing academic mind to its task. It is also deeply personal, honest, clear and engaging. (Agnes Nieuwenhuizen Weekend Australian 2012-05-05)

About the Author

Patricia Meyer Spacks is Edgar F. Shannon Professor of English, Emerita, at the University of Virginia.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Timothy Haugh TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 29, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Those of us who read extensively are also apt to be rereaders. There are a number of writers out there who have written on the experience of reading. The number of writers who have tackled rereading, however, is much smaller. For that alone, this book is a worthwhile endeavor. The fact that it is also a pleasurable read is a bonus.

To be honest, though Professor Spacks is trying to analyze the experience of rereading, this is not what makes the book most engaging. It is the simple encounter with what she has read and what she considers worth rereading. She enjoys Alice in Wonderland. I've never liked it much and recently tried reading it aloud to my daughter over a couple weeks but stalled out around chapter 8. She can't make it through The Chronicles of Narnia again, whereas I have read them through more times than I can count. She and I agree that The Catcher in the Rye is not a very good novel. She has a passion for Austen; I have a passion for Dickens.

And, again, despite the topic here, it is interesting to read through her analyses of various books that I have never read. She has the advantage of having spent a career in literature extending back into the 1950's, so it's no surprise that her reading list is much more extensive than mine. But she doesn't hang it over the head of her reader. She also acknowledges that, as a teacher of literature, some of her rereading is done professionally, and this impacts her interpretations.

Any complaints I have about what I encountered here are small, and mostly matters of argument it would likely be interesting to take up with Professor Spacks, if we ever have the chance to speak.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By las cosas on March 18, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Written by an English professor, published by Harvard University Press, I was uncertain whether this book was addressed to other academics, or actual readers. I need not have worried. This is an extremely interesting analysis and meditation on the question of why people reread novels. The simple answer is to relive the pleasure experienced when the book was first read, but the author isn't satisfied with that obvious answer and spends the 280 page book experimenting with various type of rereading in her own life, exploring the results. She is forthright in explaining that this is merely the explanation for her own personal experience of rereading, and humble is asking us not to follow her literary pleasures. "I urge that rereaders, rather, note and value their own forms of pleasure as they engage and re-engage their favorite books." And at least for this reader, she has provided exactly that prompt to examine my own rereading.

The book starts by immersing us in the world of early childhood reading. While few of us will remember the books that were read to us as young children, as parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles we remember the "need" children have to be read the same books over and over without changing words or even inflections. It is a primal soothing experienced by the child, to know that whatever else may change, the comfort, the pleasure, in hearing these stories repeated remains a predictable source of pleasure. After persuasively reemerging the reader in this childhood pleasure she describes her own childhood reading (she read at 3, went to college at 15...yeah, one of those).
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I liked the book, obviously, since I'm giving it four stars. I thought it was very well written. There was also timely in that I've been doing some rereading and finding major benefits accruing. I reread Steppenwolf and I don't know what my past self was doing when I was reading the book originally but the rereading was a revelation.

This book explained what was going on about rereading to my satisfaction. I wasn't too crazy about the feminist thread throughout the book which is why I gave it four stars instead of five stars. I found her proselytizing about female writers to be a bit tiresome but I still really liked the book and she covered a lot of ground very thoroughly.
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