I'm very much enjoying my weekly PDF installment of A Tale of Two Cities from Dickens for Breakfast. You may think you've read a book numerous times, but reading it in small pieces like this reminds you of all sorts of things that you've overlooked in previous rereadings.
When I reread, I tend just to go back to all my favorite scenes -- which are usually dialogue-heavy scenes. So I'd almost forgotten about stuff like the wonderfully dank, dark, dreary atmosphere Dickens created for Mr. Lorry's night journey in the stagecoach. "There was a steaming mist in all the hollows, and it had roamed in its forlornness up the hill, like an evil spirit, seeking rest and finding none. A clammy and intensely cold mist, it made its slow way through the air in ripples that visibly followed and overspread one another, as the waves of an unwholesome sea might do. It was dense enough to shut out everything from the light of the coach-lamps but these its own workings, and a few yards of road; and the reek of the labouring horses steamed into it, as if they had made it all." And that's just for starters.
It's also very cool to feel like you're having an experience similar to that of the book's first readers -- with the slight exception, of course, that you know what's going to happen. Still, it's not so hard to put that aside for a little while and to read as if it's all new and fresh, especially when, as I said, you're rediscovering so many things.
And having your book come to you a little bit at a time is tremendous fun. I wish we had our best contemporary authors doing this, publishing books serially in magazines and newspapers. The only novel I ever read serially before was Danielle Crittenden's Amanda Bright@home, which ran in weekly installments in the Wall Street Journal beginning in 2001, before being published in book form. I still remember how I looked forward to the new installment every week. I'd love to be able to read more books that way.
As J. J. Abrams recently pointed out, we do have serialized television, and for him, writing Lost is rather like what writing serially must have been like for Dickens. But for viewers, I think, it just isn't the same. I've actually grown pretty sick of serialized TV drama; with a few rare exceptions (Lost may be one of them, but I've hardly seen any of it, so I can't say), it relies too much on tricks and ratings stunts and general manufactured melodrama. Modern TV knows more of cheap melodrama than Dickens ever dreamed of, in my opinion. You can't show a happy family because that would be boring, so you have to destroy it. You can't show a healthy relationship, so you have to blow it up somehow. You can't have a good character who sticks to principle, so you have to have him or her compromise. You can't have any kind of peace or stability for any length of time, so you have to kill someone. Etc., etc., ad nauseam.
To my mind, these things are signs of sheer laziness. And if there's one thing Dickens didn't do, it was to take the lazy way out.