Re-reading by Mistake

Have you ever had this happen? You picked up a book that looked interesting, began reading it and had this vague suspicion that the book you thought you were reading for the first time was in fact one you had read before? And as you go along, suspicion becomes certainty. This is what happened to me recently when I started reading an edition of John Steinbeck’s The Winter of our Discontent. Not only did the plot seem familiar, but I discovered I had read this book a couple years ago and had written a Goodreads review.

Sigh! I suspect this reflects one of the hazards of reading lots of books! From the date of the review, I’ve probably read over two hundred books since then. I suspect the different edition may have thrown me, leading me to believe I hadn’t read this book. At least my memory isn’t totally failing–I recognized the plot and characters as familiar once I began reading!

John Steinbeck during his trip to accept Nobel Prize in 1962 Attribution: By Nobel Foundation [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

John Steinbeck during his trip to accept Nobel Prize in 1962
Attribution: By Nobel Foundation [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

So what do you do? Do you lay it down because you’ve already read the book? There are probably some books where the answer would be yes. But this is Steinbeck and I’ve come to love his writing. I know that I would someday like to re-read East of Eden for example. In the case of this book, Steinbeck explores the issue of personal integrity and the choice many of us wrestle with between integrity and “playing the game” where one maintains a veneer of being upstanding while cutting all kinds of ethical corners because that is just what it takes to get ahead.

I’m glad I’ve re-read the book. My previous reading focused on the main character, Ethan Allan Hawley, and his personal “winter of discontent”. What I’ve noticed this time through is social context and Steinbeck’s treatment of the hypocrisies of prevailing morality and the ironies of who is really “honest”.

There are books I’ve re-read intentionally, sometimes four or five times over the years. I do so because of their richness that seems to grow with each re-reading, perhaps because I’m at a different place in life as well, and the book reads me differently. I think something like that is going on with my “accidental” re-reading of Steinbeck.

Have you ever had this happen? What books have you come back to and re-read and what was that experience like for you?


2 thoughts on “Re-reading by Mistake

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