What Book Would You Read 100 Times?

I’m a little bit intrigued by Stephen Marche’s idea that some books can hold up to being read 100 times or more. This seems like something I’m dangerously close to actually attempting. Although, this could make for a strange project—at 3 reads per year, this would take 34 years. Even at a rather brisk 10 reads per year, that would still be 10 years—not exactly insignificant. What if 5 years in you decided that this book didn’t actually hold up to 100 reads?

I’m curious to know which books you all would actually try this with. Keep in mind practicalities—what I want are books you think this could really work for. After all, we all can probably think up a laundry list of 500-page books wisdom literature that would sustain some pretty heavy intellectualizing, or just plain crazy stuff like Gravity’s Rainbow, but a lot of these just wouldn’t work out on a practical level (if I read GR 10 times per year, I wouldn’t read much else, which would either be really cool or ruin my life).

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I would disagree with your point on Gravity’s Rainbow. I’ve read it only four times so far, but each time it went smoother and faster, so I guess it is feasible. And it is a kind of book that will definitely hold up. So, my suggestions would be any of these:

Gravity’s Rainbow
Absalom, Absalom
The Recognitions
The Divine Comedy
Terra Nostra
The Name of the Rose
Remember Famagusta
La tejedora de coronas
Gödel, Escher, Bach

And, on a smaller scale:

Pedro Paramo
Dictionary of the Khazars

The Untranslated seems determined to go with the crazy stuff! (Although I feel like Dante is a great nominee, particularly in translation, poetry is kind of unfair.)

The one issue with shorter works is that one might conceivably memorize them before you get to read 50, at which point, what’s the point? So while, say, The Metamorphosis might be out, The Trial might seem like a good bet (although, again, the issue of translation complicates things). Marche’s “particular place and time” comment, as applies to me, would make me suggest Confessions of St Augustine and Master and Margarita.

Of works in English, other than Shakespeare, some of Poe’s longer works might work, like Arnheim or Pym. I suspect that Omensetter’s Luck might be doable, and edifying, too.

I would think that these slim masterpieces would reward centi-reading (though I’m not about to try):

Michael Kohlhaas, Heinrich Kleist (c. 1810?)

Fathers and Sons (1862), Ivan Turgenev

The Man Who Was Thursday (1908), G.K. Chesterton

Jacob’s Room (1922), Virginia Woolf

Sleepless Nights (1979), Elizabeth Hardwick

Patrik Ourednik’s Europa.
Any of David Markson’s last four novels.
Kenneth Gangemi’s The Interceptor Pilot.
Ellroy’s American Tabloid.
Didion’s A Book of Common Prayer.
Daniil Kharm’s collected fiction.

My list would most likely look as follows:
The Great Gatsby
Light in August
Notes from Underground
King Lear
Train Dreams

I’ve read Moby-Dick every summer since I was 15 years old, so that’s about 25 years now. I could see myself doubling or tripling on it. I can usually read it in a week, even when really busy at work. Every time I re-read this one, I see something new, and get something a bit different from it.

Gatsby I’ve reread almost every spring since I was 20. That’s even easier to reread, and I personally find it very rewarding, although I know a number of people don’t get much from it.

I’ve reread Light in August 6 times now, and could see multiplying that.

Notes from Underground–In rereading this one, I’m not sure if you’d count it, because I’ve read four different translations of it now–two of those translations I’ve read three times each. I just love this book, even in different translations.

The Shakespeare list speaks for itself, and could easily be expanded–I believe you could reread any of the major tragedies, and a few of the comedies and romances, multiple times per year and really grow with them. I’d guesstimate that I’ve read Hamlet upwards of 50 times in my life now (I used to teach it, and and now I just reread it a few times per year because I’m obssessed with it); I’ve read Lear maybe 30 times.

Train Dreams–I’ve read this book 11 times now, and I could probably reread it every month for the rest of my life. It simply enchants me in a deeper way every time I read it. And each time I reread it now I start out intent on really studying what he does in this slim book (or novella or whatever you want to call it) and HOW he does it, but each time I become almost hypnotized by it and slip into it as into a dream, and at the end, I still have little idea of how it has the effect on me it does.

Hello Scott,

What a great question to ponder!

How about these:

Joyce’s The Dead
Gogol’s The Overcoat
Wharton’s Ethan Frome
Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying

And, I’ll go out on a limb and add two contemporary titles that should become classics:

Neuman’s Talking to Ourselves
Ferrante’s The Days of Abandonment

That’s a very fine essay in the Guardian, and makes me want to read Wodehouse. Thanks!

My first reaction was to nominate Montaigne’s Essays. But that certainly qualifies as one of Scott’s “500-page books of wisdom.”

A better choice might be a book of short stories, which you could read in any order, remixing the book over and over. I nominate Borges’ “Ficciones,” one of the very few books I’ve re-read several times over many years. It works because Borges loves to name drop, weaving in so many tiny in-jokes that are easy to forget about, and then rediscover later.

Come to think of it, reading just one book 100 times seems a very Borgesian experience.

I’m with TheUntranslated, would add

The Sound and the Fury
Blood Meridian
Crime & Punishment

It’s February, in Toronto. I just reread Sjon’s, The Blue Fox. It’s a splendid gem, a wicked little novel that cheered me enormously. It helped me get through a bit of a rough patch; I’m grateful, and if I survive nursing school I will most certainly return to it again next winter.

1. I like the idea of a book of short stories. Maybe a nice and brief collection of stories by different authors in a collection. If I had to choose one author it would be Chekhov.

2. A book of poetry maybe. Again, I would want variety to compare and contrast. But if forced to choose it might be Wallace Stevens.

3. A book of wandering musings tied together only by creative zeal, that might have a different character depending on my mood. First thing that comes to mind is Fernando Pessoa’s “Book of Disquiet”

4. A book I wanted to memorize and return to often enough to keep memorized for the rest of my life (ala the community of “books” in “Fahrenheit 451”). Maybe read it once a week for a year, and then twice a year or so for the remaining years to keep it locked in the brain. Brevity would be essential. The sound of the language would be a priority. A decently long poem or short story. Joyce? Something from “Dubliners”?

Heart of Darkness, By Night in Chile and Street of Crocodiles and Other Stories. They all get better each time I read them.

I’m sure no one would actually read the same book 100 times (reminds me of the character the end of Waugh’s Handful of Dust condemned to read Dickens over and over again in perpetuity). But ok, if I HAD to name some that might survive 100 readings:

1) Joyce, Ulysses
2) Lowry, Under the Volcano
3) Ishiguro, The Unconsoled
4) Neuman, Traveler of the Century
5) Gaddis The Recognitions
6) Melville, The Confidence Man
7) Theroux, D’Arconville’s Cat

All big, labyrinthine, a different wander each read. Would take forever to read 100 times though.

To go a bit lighter… The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, picked only partially because it’s already my most re-read book.

I was going to say La Recherche, but that’s crazy, that would take up my whole life. Maybe that’d be OK, but maybe I should breathe sometimes. Maybe better something I can read in a day, a different snapshot each time, like Marie Ndiaye’s Self Portrait in Green or Muriel Spark’s The Driver’s Seat or Elias Khoury’s The Smell of Soap.

Spiegelman’s Maus.

I’ve already read it 20+ times and it remains extraordinary. 100 times might even be manageable.

Scott, thanks for asking. I can say that, at this point, I must be closing in on a hundred times through INVISIBLE CITIES, Calvino — and a good dozen or fifteen of (Donald) Barthelme’s stories, if not all from a single collection then amounting to the same heft, themselves.

Excellent idea. Since I was 15, I have made the annual pilgrimage to the Kafka corpus. I am now 60, so the 45 times I have listened to Franz has been rewarding. I know I’ll never make it to 100. I truly think that number is an exaggeration for a reader. I have flipped back and forth between the German and English in my reading of FK, but I truly say that I haven’t heard everything he can tell me. Since Bernhard’s Extinction came out in 1996, I have made that book an annual read as well. I just love that work!

Don’t you feel like there’s too many worthy books out there to justify reading one a hundred times? There are book on my ‘to read’ queue that have been on there for like seven years!

Plays and poems are clearly the most workable choices. One could easily reread Hamlet every Sunday evening and be over in a couple of years (but then you’d tempted to keep doing it forever after).

If pressed to pick a novel, I’d go with something short, witty and deep. Machado de Assis’ Posthumous memoirs of Bras Cubas would fit the bill perfectly.

Moby-Dick all the way. Maybe Beckett’s Trilogy.

Moby Dick, Absalom, Absalom, Lolita, Infinite Jest and those chapters from The Sotweed Factor that include both Ebenezer Cooke and Bertrand. Too bad, there won’t be anytime left over to read anything else.


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