I pose the question in the title -- Should favorite books be reread? -- after a few disappointing experiences.
Like a lot of readers, I find the quality of my reading materials to ebb and flow. Sometimes I hit a stretch where it's one great book after another, which only makes me hungry for more. Then I will hit a patch where it's one piece of crap after another. Like death, bad books come in threes. By that third book, my coping mechanism kicks in: I pick up a book by a writer who I know is reliable and trustworthy. I have my own ranking system in my head (it's more of the A, B, C, D, F variety than the 1-5 stars variety), and I find that, interestingly, a lot of my go-to novelists are solid B's. By that I mean, they rarely turn out something breathtakingly stellar, but they can always be counted on to deliver something good, suspenseful, entertaining, and well written.
I won't even mention these writers by name because doing so would be damning with faint praise, and they deserve much better than that.
After my most recent bad patch, I started feeling nostalgia for some books that I'd read and loved, and that had made a strong impression on me, 20 or 30 years ago. I went back to them, looking to relive the joys ... and found them lacking. One was a book that I remember as being one of the most exquisitely suspenseful novels I've ever read. This time around, it wasn't so suspenseful -- indeed, the middle of the book drags quite a bit, and the climax wasn't nearly as thrilling as I remembered.
Another book was one I'd raced through back in the day. Upon re-reading it, I found it full of psychobabble that made me roll my eyes. Back in the day, I considered it edgy and daring. This time around, I found it distasteful.
This all makes me wonder if the experience of a reading a book is indelibly connected to a time, a place, a mindset. Can it be better, I ask myself, to live with the delicious joy of a favorite read, rather than attempt to repeat an experience that can't be repeated and is doomed to end in disappointment? Maybe all of this has to do with the idea that a second reading is almost by definition a more critical reading--one in which the reader sees the patchwork; questions ideas, characters, motivations; and, as a more experienced reader, is better able to evaluate the quality of the writing.
I suppose this gets at one of the key distinctions between escapist genre fiction and literature. Literature often improves upon re-reading (the key exception I can think of is Wuthering Heights, which seems to me more ridiculous every time). Genre fiction--well, maybe, not so much. If my pile of books weren't so high, I'd love to go back and re-read some of the things I've loved, as recently as a year ago, to see if I still love them quite so much. Maybe I wouldn't.
I had to check on all of this with Mrs. Agatho. So I asked her to choose a favorite book and re-read it. She narrowed her eyes, knowing I had an agenda of some sort, which of course I refused to share with her, as doing so would have been the equivalent of a spoiler. She chose a favorite of hers from her 20s and reported that it seemed awfully dated and she couldn't believe she'd been so fond of such a vapid and mindless heroine. We commiserated a bit over a nice cup of coffee and crumbcake--two things that, for us, have stood the test of time.