Literary Repetition: The Virtues of Reading a Book 100 Times

Writer Stephen Marche has perused PG Wodehouse and Hamlet more than 100 times each.

By Published on February 18, 2015

I have read two books more than a 100 times, for different motives and with different consequences. Hamlet I read a 100 times for my dissertation, The Inimitable Jeeves by PG Wodehouse a 100 times for comfort. The experience is distinct from all other kinds of reading. I’m calling it centireading.

I read Hamlet a 100 times because of Anthony Hopkins. He once mentioned, in an interview with Backstage magazine, that he typically reads his scripts over a 100 times, which gives him “a tremendous sense of ease and the power of confidence” over the material. I was writing a good chunk of my doctoral dissertation on Hamlet and I needed all the sense of ease and power of confidence I could muster.

My supervisor, during my doctorate, which was at the University of Toronto, was a man named Sandy Leggatt, one of those rare scholars – I met very few in my sojourn among them – for whom exposure to the texts under investigation was a virtue in itself. He actually liked to read even though it was his job. He was one of the best-read people I ever met, but he was certainly the best-reread person. He would regularly do things like reread all the Greek comedies, for instance, just so he knew them. When we collectively decided that I was going to work on early modern tragedy, he brightened and informed me that there were only about 200 of them, so I would be able to read them all.

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