“You should be extending your stay among writers whose genius is unquestionable, deriving constant nourishment from them if you wish to gain anything from your reading that will find a lasting place in your mind.”Seneca
In the rapidly changing world we live in, we are often encouraged to devour new content. However, there’s a profound, often under-appreciated, practice that successful people throughout history have followed – re-reading great books.
Our society has an insatiable appetite for newness, but new is not always synonymous with better. By returning to foundational texts, we can gain fresh insights and deeper understanding. The legendary investor Charlie Munger once said, “In my whole life, I have known no wise people who didn’t read all the time – none, zero.”
Re-reading Over Quantity
James Clear, best-selling author of Atomic Habits, argues in favor of the power of repetition. In habit formation, he proposes the concept of “getting 1% better every day.” This principle isn’t confined to the physical realm alone. It can extend to our intellectual pursuits as well, and re-reading offers a prime opportunity to refine our knowledge and comprehension.
Think about it. Just as physical repetitions in the gym build our muscles, re-reading books reinforces neural connections and deepens understanding.
The Roman philosopher Seneca advised, “You should be extending your stay among writers whose genius is unquestionable, deriving constant nourishment from them if you wish to gain anything from your reading that will find a lasting place in your mind.”
Historical Evidence of the Value of Re-Reading
From world-renowned philosophers to successful business tycoons, many have championed the practice of re-reading.
Consider the perspective of Sir Francis Bacon, one of the most influential figures of the Renaissance, known for his philosophical works and profound insights. Bacon astutely observed that “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few are to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.” These words were deeply appreciated by numerous readers, including Thomas Jefferson, who was known to revisit his favorite books regularly.
Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius himself recorded in his personal notes – now known as Meditations – thoughts from earlier philosophers, re-reading and reflecting on them repeatedly throughout his life.
The Benefits of Re-reading
Understanding Depth Over Breadth
Re-reading is an antidote to the frenzied consumption of information. It aids us in appreciating the depth of a work, and as Ryan Holiday, the author of The Daily Stoic, often suggests in his writings, the practice of re-reading is about delving deeper, ruminating, and seeking a fuller understanding.
Seeing Different Perspectives
As we grow, our perspectives change. When you revisit a book, you’re not the same person you were when you first read it. Consequently, the book changes too, as you’re now equipped to understand layers or nuances that you might have overlooked earlier.
Building Mental Models
Great books often present complex ideas that require time to fully understand and assimilate. Re-reading helps to develop robust mental models, as Charlie Munger points out: “You’ve got to have models in your head. And you’ve got to array your experiences both vicarious and direct on this latticework of models.”
Practical Strategies for Re-Reading
- Use The Margin: Write in the margins of your books. It turns reading into a conversation and makes revisiting the book more valuable.
- Share The Knowledge: Discuss the book with others. This not only helps in assimilating the information better but also offers diverse perspectives.
- Take It Slow: Re-reading doesn’t have to be cover-to-cover. You can revisit specific chapters or sections that resonate with you.
Re-reading great books is not just about nostalgia or comfort. It’s a proven strategy for gaining a deeper understanding, offering fresh perspectives, and building solid mental models.
Let’s heed Seneca’s advice, “You should be extending your stay among writers whose genius is unquestionable.”
Remember, the value of a book isn’t just in its capacity to provide new information but also in its power to remind us of fundamental truths. We can leverage the wisdom of the ages to guide us in today’s complex world by re-reading great books.
Let’s champion the old while embracing the new. After all, wisdom isn’t about pursuing novelty for novelty’s sake, but about striving for truth and understanding — and sometimes, that requires revisiting the classics.