The art of re-reading – “To the Lighthouse” by Virginia Woolf

I’m not a big re-reader; I often feel overwhelmed by the amount of books that I still desire to read so the thought of going back to something I’ve already ticked off the list can feel like a waste of time! I still haven’t quite accepted that I probably don’t have enough years left in my life to get through all the books I will want to read (perhaps not even the books in my TBR pile!). The joy of reading, though, is not about who can read the most, who has the most impressive library or can quote most extensively from their bookish knowledge. It is about the individual and the solitary pleasure of getting lost in a story. And you can do that in the same book many times over, if it’s good enough and if you love it enough. Re-reading gives a pleasure all of its own.

To The Lighthouse imgI had that very experience recently with my book club when we decided to read To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. Some of us had read it before (though years earlier) others had not read it at all. But even those of us who had read it before could not remember very much about it! I read it when I was studying for my English degree 30 years ago; I would probably have got through most of Virginia Woolf’s books in a very short space of time, because that was what my degree entailed – reading lots and lots of books very quickly! I always remembered that To The Lighthouse was my favourite, but I could not honestly have told you what happens in it, except that the journey to the eponymous lighthouse was about something desired more than something fulfilled.

Coming to it again, therefore, was a perfect pleasure and I am so glad we chose it. I read it of course, through totally different eyes. I was in my early twenties when I read it first and now I am…somewhat older! I am a mother of three children and so I saw aspects of the novel that I simply could not have understood fully before. By happy coincidence, the current lockdown gave me the opportunity to read it in three long sittings, which this book definitely deserves. I became totally absorbed in the life of the Ramsay household, the inner world of the characters thrown uneasily together in the Skye summer house and the quest for something unattainable.

The other difference was that when I read it all those years ago, I was the student and the reading would have been for a different purpose – to write an essay, spot the references or the autobiographical aspects. This time I read it just for itself.

Re-reading is definitely something I would like to do more of. One of the opportunities this period of lockdown offers is a suspension of all normal routines, time proceeds differently and I feel less boxed-in to my usual routines. I feel we have stepped off the treadmill. We will be desperate to get back on it soon enough, no doubt, especially as the economy teeters, but until then my next re-read is going to be Ulysses. I first read it on a lazy week’s holiday in Spain about twenty years ago (pre-children!) – I think it deserves my time again now!

Are you a re-reader or do you tend mainly to read new titles, like me?

 

Author: Julia's books

Reader. Writer. Mother. Partner. Friend. Friendly.

6 thoughts on “The art of re-reading – “To the Lighthouse” by Virginia Woolf”

  1. I read only new-to-me titles, as I want to discover as many new stories as possible! I remember reading only 1 book for pleasure-related purpose (at least in the past 5 years), and I enjoyed it a lot less than the first time …

    Re-reading does not match my current interests, but I can imagine a time in the future when I would read again favourites from these times 🙂

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    1. I would normally agree Georgina. This was an exception however. I read this when I was much younger and coming back to it at my present age, it was like it was new all over again. Not sure of your age, but perhaps your perspective may change! As you forget more! 😀

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  2. I re-read a lot. Sometimes I re-read because I got to know a different perspective from which a book can be read and find things I’ve never noticed before. Sometimes I re-read because I only remember how the book made me feel the first time I —read it and not the story. But having said that, I am not a voracious reader. I am a very choosy leader.

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  3. Thank you for writing this reassuring, inspirational post! There’s a profound joy in re-discovering literature and comparing one’s feelings between the readings. 👏

    In my opinion, Virginia Woolf’s novels are meant to be read and analysed multiple times throughout different stages of life because there are myriads of layers…
    ”To the Lighthouse” is one of my absolute favourites, especially the section ”Time Passes.”

    As you have mentioned, the plot is vague and difficult to remember – I completely agree! In most of Virginia’s works, introspection & feelings surpass movements & action; maybe, this is exactly why her writing resonates with my soul.

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