At her blog, The Palace at 2:00 a.m., Marly Youmans provides an excellent brief account of the benefits of rereading:
. . .it is in rereading that a story or poem reveals itself—and tells us the extent of its merit. Most reviewers know only the first cursory passage through a work when they pen a review; a reader can know more. Though life is short and art long, we ought to reread often, because it is there that we “dive,” as Melville would say.
Actually, I would say that Marly is describing not merely the difference between reading to review and truly reading--diving in, without concern for reporting on it afterward--but between the goals of reviewing in particular as opposed to the goals of literary criticism more generally.
The reviewer is charged with the task of immediately assessing a given work for its value to a "general audience" at least as interested in keeping up with the newest and the latest as in plunging deeply into any particular book (dawdling over the current book only prevents us from moving on to the next hot release). Good reviewers certainly do help us decide what books may reward a more careful and concentrated kind of reading, but the very nature of periodical book reviewing makes it necessary for the reviewer to assume the role of cultural quality inspector. It's the stage of literary life in which books are most conspicuously presented as commodities, another kind of "choice" to be made by the intelligent consumer.
But after this initial flurry in the literary marketplace and after most of the products offered by the "book business" have been consumed, ignored, or discarded, some books remain to be read and reread in the way Marly has described. They're books (or poems or stories) that call on us to immerse ourselves in the experience of reading them for reasons that go beyond the timely and the trendy. And I like to think that there is a kind of literary criticism that corresponds to this order of reading, that both reminds us what works these are and helps us to enhance the reading experience. Such criticism also attempts to "dive" in the Melvillean manner, providing "information" of a sort through patient description of the text's manifest (if not always immediately apparent) features (as experienced by the critic him/herself), but also drawing attention to the implications of the text's formal and stylistic qualities or putting the work in a relevant context, especially the context of literary history. "Interpretation" might be involved, but it is not the kind of interpretation that encloses the work in critical amber, telling us what it "means." It is interpretation meant to be supplemented, if not replaced, by additional informed interpretation.
At one time this sort of criticism was relatively abundant, in literary magazines and journals, although it was frequently labeled "academic." Unfortunately, academic criticism as now practiced bears little or no relation to the literary criticism I have described, criticism concerned first and foremost with the literary qualities of literature, with making the reading of works of literature a more satisfying experience for those who might be interested. In revolt against the mere "appreciation" of literature, academic critics now enage in its interrogation. Literature exists not as the effort to create compelling works of verbal art but as a category of artifacts to examined among others for its relevance to "cultural critique." "Reading" is the process of forcing the text to conform to one's pre-established critical paradigm, not the act of exploring its verbal complexities. Since no "diving" into works of literature is possible when they've been drained of all their vitality, what now passes for literary criticism in the learned journals does less than nothing to encourage active reading, much less rereading. It wades around in the shallow waters of ideology and second-hand social analysis, leaving serious readers of literature to swim for themselves.