Dec 23, 2022

in praise of re-reading

My friend Lisa Brawley, a longtime professor and now dean at Vassar, told me she often bases her final course assignments around re-reading a text, as opposed to introducing a new one. She is wise — and committed to the idea that revisiting, metabolizing, making sense of ideas always takes longer than we professors think. There is little to be gained by cramming in new material just because we’re greedy for some idea of comprehensiveness. (Lisa is serious about the limits of students’ capacity to encounter and make meaning of new material altogether. She even has a “no new big ideas after Spring Break” policy in semester 2!)

Re-reading is its own challenge and pleasure, and I had my students in nonfiction do that as a prompt for their final essays. They re-read a text of their choice from the semester and then analyzed it in three different ways. They did such a good job, and I think it’s in part because the texts they chose have had time to grow and blossom in their interior worlds. That’s surely the baseline for success in any artwork — does the work grow in your mind when you’re done? If so, it has accomplished its task, no matter the tenor of one’s response. I made a strong case this term for the textured interiority to be gained from spending time with authors. And I hope they got it.