Which books should you read one hundred times or more?

No, not your own.  Here is one view:

The main effect of reading Hamlet a 100 times was, counter-intuitively, that it lost its sense of cliche. “To be or not to be” is the Stairway to Heaven of theatre; it settles over the crowd like a slightly funky blanket knitted by a favorite aunt. Eventually, if you read Hamlet often enough, every soliloquy takes on that same familiarity. And so “To be or not to be” resumes its natural place in the play, as just another speech. Which renders its power and its beauty of a piece with the rest of the work.

That reader is Stephen Marche, the link is here, interesting throughout.  Can you guess which is his other pick?

By the way, I believe that to do this you need to own many copies of the work (can you figure out why?), and indeed Marche owns at least ten copies of Hamlet.


What self-indulgent piffle. What's the opportunity cost of reading Hamlet a hundred times? Anyway, the ruddy thing is a play not a novel. Get thee to a theatre.

Speaking of opportunity costs, sometimes it feels as though I'm starting to read the same MR comments thread for the hundredth time...

Opportunity cost, yes. I would have read Boswell's Life of Johnson many more times were it not that they are so many other books I would like to get to. But if I live to be 500, I expect I might hit 100x with Life of Johnson.

I am pleased to see he had Wodehouse as his second pick, that was my first pick.

Me too.

Very interesting -- and distinctly non-Guardian-like -- take on the implied politics of Wodehouse:

"The class satire of The Inimitable Jeeves is balanced by a complex counter-satire, as well. The class system is absurd, yes, but attempts to reject the class system, whether through violent overthrow, as proposed by the Brothers of the Red Dawn, or the novels about romance between lords and factory girls, as written by Rosie M Banks, are even more absurd. The way of the world is stupid; the attempt at change ends up being even stupider. As political visions of the 20th century go, you could do worse. Many did."

Not especially anti-guardian, its the paper of the comfortable middle class in Britain, the sort of people who angst about social division, but still eventually send their kids to private schools, the idea that the system is unfixable is deeply appealing as it frees one from responsibility

A friend of mine used to take his first dates to plays, and scared many of these ladies away when he insisted that they not only read the play beforehand, but bring copies of the play with them to the performance so that they could follow along. Yes, he was an English major.

As a near English major, let me say that it is completely ridiculous to bring a copy of the play. A theater goer should try to immerse themselves in the performance, not follow along with the lines!

This is hardly unusual for scholars, who are interested in minutiae. But quirky on a date.

Bloody kind of him, sending out strong signals like that on the first date. Would be a shame for a young woman to invest weeks or months of time before discovering that he is an ass.

Being a nerd shouldn't necessarily be equated with being an ass.

Maybe she found this endearing, where most of us athletic types would consider it odd at best, but hardly reprehensible. There are female nerds, you know. Maybe she had her own copy of the play along for the evening.

Yea maybe. Ass seems more likely, though.

Yes, a good signalling device. If you are determined that your soul mate be the type of person who thinks this is normal, might as well save both of you some time.

I wonder if he eventually did meet his soul mate, and they read plays to each other in the evening?

Wodehouse is a great choice (must have read "Code of the Woosters" two dozen times). But I will get close, before I shuffle off this mortal coil, to reading "Portrait of a Lady" that many times..

Read the "Clicking of Cuthbert." Very worthy.

"Uncle Fred flits by " Inimitable!

Funny you mention that. Because I *have* read The Clicking of Cuthbert 100 times, before I even knew that centireading existed - just because I wanted to. It is glorious beyond words.

Douglas Adams was a Wodehouse centireader at a small scale. He would read the same paragraph many times to work out precisely what made it funny. And, it has to be said, the best of DA isn't far off Wodehouse.

An interesting sub-question here. What films repay repeated watching? I find it a strange selection: some very good films repay repeat watching, others don't. Zulu yes, Citizen Kane no, etc......

If you must insist that a play must be seen, not read, I will be forced to regale you with the experience of putting on a performance - not as an actor, thank goodness, but in the crew - of Death of a Salesman. I certainly did not appreciate that play nearly enough the first time I saw it. By the 6th or 10th time or somesuch, it had lost its sense of cliche. The first time one sees or reads a new thing, certainly there is a power, but it is a very different kind of power than that of relatively deep familiarity.

Some books are meant to be read, and some books are meant to be heard. After all, it wasn't that long ago that even the educated couldn't read. Yet, today there are many texts that were meant to be heard which are interpreted according to words meant to be read. Much of American literature was meant to be read, having been written when many could read, which often confuses Americans who can read.

I would like to take a few guesses at why one would need many copies of a book in order to read the text a hundred times. How does this work? Does Tyler acknowledge a correct guess? Does he give a Coasean reward for a certain number of incorrect guesses by revealing the correct answer?

1. Because one book would fall apart or wear out where it contacted one's hand?

2. Because one book would be unable to accommodate a hundred readings worth of notes?

3. Because one would be lulled into a false rhythm by the same page breaks?

I assumed slightly different translations/edits.

The answer lies in the Ramsey model.

What's the Straussian interpretation?

The article suggests "For scholarly purposes."

I believe that means the commentary that went with it. (It was the author's dissertation topic)

So you don't just read white nerd translations?

I'm guessing more than anything else, different editions, formats, fonts etc reduce a tendency to subconsciously skim something because of familiarity. Because the stimulus still feels somewhat novel on one level, you keep paying attention to the content.

Because after ten reads you'll be so sick of the book you'll flush it down the toilet.

Because there is no definitive edition of any Shakespeare play - all are patchworks of texts, even if you are considering the original Folio or Quarto editions.

Modern editions make all sort of choices (regularisation of spelling not the least).
'The Oxford Shakespeare Complete Works' is a decent one:

For those seriously interested in how the texts came down to us, Tiffany Stern's 'Making Shakespeare: From Stage to Page' is concise, very readable, and extremely interesting.

Many copies.. or several kindles?

It would not have been unusual in certain circles in India to have read Ramayana a large number of times. A part of the traditional training of children is the same households would have been to memorize a thesaurus sort of text (amarakosha) from a a young age and to recite it fully every day for years.

I came across reference to this book once (published in 1944, I believe). I don't seem to have access to the full Time magazine review any more, but I saved a quote:

A staggering clinical experiment, in which English Psychologist K. O. Newman acted as his own guinea pig, is recorded in Two Hundred and Fifty Times I Saw a Play (Pelagos Press, Oxford; $1). Moreover, Newman saw the play—Terence Rattigan's Flare Path—at successive performances, always sitting in the same third-row aisle seat.

Newman's reason was "to find out things never noticed before"; his reaction, "truly incredible boredom." The most trying period was "the latter half of the first 25 performances. Then I got my second wind." Newman learned to sleep open-eyed, but the slightest deviation from the script would wake him up...

I did this as a teenager all the time, but usually with magazines I hid under my bed.

I've probably read Atlas Shrugged at least 100 times. Still sucks.

Read it another 100 times and get back to us.

"By the way, I believe that to do this you need to own many copies of the work (can you figure out why?)"

Because you lose it many times over the years.

Not a book, but I'll throw a nod towards the Constitution. And it's a quick read.

Screenplay for Spaceballs, most Chuck Klosterman.

How about because this guy read all the versions of Hamlet all those monkeys with typewriters wrote?

Perhaps he is aware of the ongoing references in the great novel by Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone , the first English detective novel, to continual re-reading of Robinson Crusoeby the principal narrator of the story, the property caretaker. He treats the first English novel somewhat as the Bible by returning to it over and over sometimes at random for decisive insights into the day's events and quoting for the reader's benefit. Quite amusing.

I would say Dune.

+1 Un. Canny.

I read Dune probably half a dozen times as a teen-ager. Re-read it again recently and found it still interesting, but doubt I need to read it again in my lifetime.

Dune is easily worth reading that many times, and well worthwhile. I found more meaning in God Emperor although it is not as well written as Dune.

I think 1984 is worth reading 100 times. I've read it somewhere between 10 and 20 times. In order to read a book 100 times, though, it pretty much has to be your life's work analysing it to make the venture worthwhile. I'd say the Holy Bible and other religious books are worth the endeavor.

Books worth reading 10 times are:

The Bible
Tropic of Cancer
On the Road
Don Quixote
Emerson's Essays
The Castle

Dostoevsky's major novels, Conrad's works (even more than Dostoevsky), Wodehouse (all; any), Don Quixote, and what can I say? I've read Pete Dexter's Deadwood 3x.

On The Road ? Really? Well, there goes your credibility.

The writer of this piece references the Jonathan Cecil reading of "The Inimitable Jeeves" as the beginning of his enthusiasm for this book. Let me add my personal recommendation of all Jonathan Cecil's recorded book readings of the Jeeves and Bertie canon. Cecil is an absolutely brilliant interpreter of the work. His genius as a reader is equal to Wodehouse's genius as a writer. I've listening to his readings over and over again. Once you hear Cecil read Wodehouse, all other readers seem pallid, all video and movie adaptations are dull, and the books themselves seem to be even greater than you remember them.

The Skin of Our Teeth, and second the Constitution.

I would go with the reason being that different copies will have different page breaks, font sizes, etc. which change the tempo of the reading. Obviously many works will have different translations or annotations as well.

I wonder if more people are like me, rereading certain sections from particular novels hundreds of time? I've read chapters 22 & 23 of "Right Ho, Jeeves," hundreds of times, and I've scanned "The Guermantes Way" hundreds of times, focusing on the death of his grandmother and Swann telling the Duke and Duchess that he's dying. There are others, as well, that obviously occur to me to revisit in certain circumstances. I do this with movies, too, recently watching a section of "Goodbye, Lenin" dozens of times, for example.

I feel this way about Moby Dick. Certain parts are priceless and other parts are sleeping pills.

A high school English teacher of mine mentioned that he reread the Lord of the Rings every summer. That may not get him to 100, but it should get him close if he gives up smoking.

I guessed The Remains of the Day, which I suppose was pretty close.

I could read a book one hundred times.

Dare me?

I would read the world's shortest book, or several of them at once.

According to Wikipedia, the worlds shortest book is
"The world's shortest book was a joke template that has been popular since the end of World War II.

The reference template was ethnic in nature with typical examples including: "Italian War Heroes" "German Comedians" "Blacks I've met Yachting" and "Light Jewish Cuisine." Another template consists of a book title and an author, which when paired together would be nonsensical. An example would be "Theory of Racial Harmony, by George Wallace" (the gist of the joke being that George Wallace was famous for his racial bigotry).[1]

A related joke template is the generic book title "Everything that X knows about Y", the book being entirely composed of blank pages. Examples include the (fictitious) books "Everything the average man knows about women", "Everything sports club owners know about on-field tactics", "Everything politicians know about how to run an economy" and "Things Better than Boobs".

Ok, I dare you to actually read one of those books (Amazon or Google Books link, please, to prove it exists).

Speaking of diminishing marginal returns ...

Actually, his utility function is not strictly concave - he explained in the interview how he gained tremendously from coming to know these books so intimately. This implies that successive readings beyond a certain threshold actually have constant or increasing utility as familiarity with the text reaches a tipping point. I'd posit that he initially saw diminishing returns as he became bored with it, then increasing returns as he grew to love it, then constant gains once the text is illuminated in his mind by his past readings - he can compare and contrast the experience of reading and the thoughts/emotions it evokes with past readings.

What's better, reading Hamlet 100 times or reading Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth, Othello, The Tempest, Henry IV Part I, The Merchant of Venice, Anthony and Cleopatra, Romeo and Juliet, and Coriolanus ten times each?

Hamlet 100x. Because you put Romeo and Juliet on the list.

I suppose it depends on his personal utility function - if the first ten readings still qualify as "work" (and thus display diminishing marginal returns), then each of these books would become decreasingly good, and never so intimately familiar that he could read them effortlessly and joyfully. He can't be expected to know/memorize each of those works as intimately as Hamlet due to constraints on time & human memory.

If you are doing your PHD on hamlet as he is then clearly Hamlet

Five to 10 times anyway.

Pickwick Papers by Dickens
The Algebraist by Banks
Endurance by Shackleton
Henry II by Warren
The Singularity is Near by Kurzweil

The only Dickens worth reading even once is the Tale of Two Cities.

Some of his books are not even worth reading zero times.

I have read 4 or 5 Curious George books, maybe 400 or 500 times each to my special needs son over the past 10 years. We have hundreds of books on his shelves, but he usually chooses the same ones. I figure that I am 25,000 pages + into those books.

Einstein was a fan of H.A. Rey's childrens' book on stars.

Really? I LOVE Rey's constellations book. Like mad mad love it. My kids don't love it nearly as much, to my shame.

I'm on my third child and bedtime reading. Nothing puts me to sleep faster than Curious George.

Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See, however, is great. The only book I finish after my child is already asleep.

Are you kidding? Panda Bear, Panda Bear is the weakest of that trilogy by far because of its cloying political theme. I much prefer the soaring and criminally underrated "Polar Bear, Polar Bear", with its diverse collection of zoo animals and focus on the aural that encourages an entertaining reading style.

I've read Flamingos on the Roof 100 times.

Every year I read Tennyson's Ulysses on my birthday and Quincy Troop's "Male Springtime Ritual" when spring arrives.

Lt Gen William K Harrison (one of Eisenhower's favorite generals) - Old Testament x 70, New Testament x 280 (from age 20 at West Point to age 90, well into his retirement) .... Seems like a lot but it left a lot of time for everything else in his life, I have heard. Akhamatova, Eugene Onegin enough times to basically memorize it ... Tolkien, Beowulf, ditto, I would imagine ... Harold Bloom may have seen Hamlet 40 or so times and read it two or three times as often as that ...But for anything but the absolute best or most aesthetically useful, imagine the nonliterary opportunity costs... Riemann would "read" through functions over and over again in order to understand math ...for us ordinary mortals, if you are comfortable thinking of numbers in base 30, it takes about twenty minutes to recite all the nonstandard numbers (primes, where primes are non-standard, non-primes, where primes are standard) in the line of numbers demarcated by numbers equal to 30 modulo 1, 3, 7, 9, 11, 13, 17, 19, 21, 23, 27, 29 from zero to 6000 (a three digit number in base 30) - you can do that 365 times a year easy (reading out the nonstandard variants as, say, all the results of non-5 primes times non-five primes to 3000 or so - 49, 77, 91, 119, 121, 133, 143 and so on.... followed by all the primes from about 3000 to 6000, forgetting at that point in you recitation about those incessantly settling and accumulating non-5 prime multiples, relentlessly filling in all those gaps, in favor of the sinuously diminishing primes, creating larger gaps of their own - well I could tell you where I think the best actual inflection point is but what fun is there in that), and at the end of the year you will have made many friends among the primes... who wouldn't want many friends among the primes, or wouldn't be potentially (not really, but potentially) sad at never meeting them or even just their photogenic negatives? if I were a chess coach, I might suggest, to appreciate the aesthetics of chess, a repeated exercise in visualizing the pieces as real semi-sentient beings (not too lifelike, though, no uncanny valleys in this landscape, please) in a moonlit or sunlit desert of 64 sandy hillocks and, given that premise, running through your favorite 20 games or so, at about a four minute pace for each game, from move one to incipient checkmate, once a day for a hundred days ... or go through the score of your favorite Bach or Mozart once a day for a hundred days ... or visualize every aspect of Vermeer paintings just as many times... OR - remember the Highest of the opportunity costs, important because You only live once - Spend Time With Your Friends and Neighbors and Family and in Prayer!!! Opportunity costs, as I said ...

100 Years of Solitude.

Once a year. It's a big book.

The only book worth re-reading. It is like an Easter egg hunt, each reading you find something different.

Why stop at books? I have seen some movies many times. The reasons why I do that vary, but sometimes I just like to play a Woody Allen or Coen brothers film that I know by heart. You start laughing at secondary jokes and other subtleties.


inguess I was the only one bothered by the uses of "centi-" and "milli-" as the prefixes? Those would be a hundredth of a reading and a thousandth of a reading. Surely this should be hectoreading and kiloreading.

Pedantry aside, I like this idea in the abstract very much. I doubt I will follow through with it, despite having played some video games for several hundred hours.

A centipede has 1/100 of a leg? Who knew?

I'm sure I got through Roald Dahl's "Fantastic Mr Fox" at least a hundred times in the course of my childhood, between reading it myself and having it read to me by others. Reading books that they like over and over again is pretty standard practice for small children. You could look at the issue from another angle and ask "Why is it that people become less inclined to reread books from early childhood onwards?"

As an adult, I've never actually sat down and read a book 100 times over and over again. That said, I have been a cast member in some plays, which basically necessitated going through a text a hundred times or more. Doing so with a play has two main consequences: (1) you become extremely aware of the text's weaknesses, as any flaws or superficialities become immensely annoying after the tenth repetition; (2) you become extremely aware of the text's strengths, as having to rethink the questions raised by the text dozens of times gives you a full appreciation of it's depth, beauty and insight. The play that most impressed me in this regard was Arthur Miller's "The Crucible".

Children have a lot more free time, and their books are a lot shorter.

"I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew"
Seuss's masterwork.

By Jewish tradition, one should read the weekly Torah portion thrice each week (twice in Hebrew, once in translation). Since the weekly cycle covers the five books of Moses every year, it would take a scrupulous Jew only 33 years to have read through the entire Torah 100x. There is definitely added nuance and depth to that sort of closeness to the text.

That's fine for genesis, but once you start getting into the blueprints for the temple in leviticus, it is a recipe for boredom. At that point you should switch over to reading the neviim instead. Preferably in order instead of the mishmash haftarah schedule.

The temple blueprints are actually in Exodus and cover all of 2 weeks (or four weeks in a 13 month year). The details of sacrificial offerings in Leviticus can also be tedious but there is a lot of meat (no pun intended) in that book as well, in terms of interesting plot and commandments. Ignoring those sections gives an incomplete picture of the role religion played in early Jewish life.
And yes, I would strongly recommend reading the prophets. I was only pointing out that it is not hard to find observant Jews who have read through the 5 books of Moses 100 times or more. Much more rare to see that kind of proficiency with other texts.

I'm sure many of us have read the same story to our children this much.

I thought my older daughter could read at 4 because she would "read" Peter Rabbit out loud, turning the pages at the correct time. But she had only memorized it.

We read Calvin and Hobbes so much that eventually I would hide the fourth panel and my younger daughter would serve up the punchline. This "builds character".

As a Christian, I think the book of Genesis and the gospel of Matthew bear repeated reading. For those looking for some new way of looking at Genesis, the complete text is in graphic novel form by R. Crumb -- it makes you appreciate the wonderful storytelling underlying the book.

"Walden" , where is Henry when we need him?

I read Norman McLean's "A River Runs Through It" annually. It is a U Chicago press with wood engravings by Barry Moser. I found it second-hand , years after a first reading. I find it perfectly crafted, not a word/sentence to be changed.
It is regrettable the film version felt a need to add material, namely the funeral speech( moving as it was) .At least Redford did not utterly change the film from the novel as he did with "The Natuaral"

Quran, anything by Nabokov.

You need several copies because you highlight different things and write different notes, and run out of room on the page.

Uhmm, hello?

How about Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand?

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