Do You Reread Books?

The issue of rereading beloved books is yet another one that I didn’t realize was up for debate until I moved in with Mr. McD. He is firmly in the No Rereading camp, and once expressed confusion about why I choose to read certain books over and over when there are plenty of great books I’ve never read. The book that prompted this discussion, unsurprisingly, was one of the Lord of the Rings books, which I was curled up at the time with for possibly the fourth time since he’d met me.

It’s a conundrum, really, and it’s not confined to just books. Music, movies, restaurants, vacation spots”¦with so many choices out there, the decision to return again and again to some old favorites isn’t necessarily a given. There are so many other great options out there! You could be missing out on some other, better, newer favorite!

I think books are a special circumstance, though, because you spend so much time with a book. You can really settle in and immerse yourself in any book’s little world, so much so that you really feel like you’ve visited a new place. Just like returning to a physical place often allows you to notice and appreciate things you didn’t the first time around, rereading a book can make you see it in a new way.

I also am a really fast reader, and I don’t mean that in a good way. Thanks to my slightly manic, ADD-ish brain, I skim over words way too quickly, even when I’m reading for pleasure. Especially if I’m reading for pleasure, actually. If I’m really engrossed in a story, if it’s one of those read-in-one-sitting books, I will seriously tear through it like a ravenous animal. I’ll finish, be sad that it’s over, and want to read it again. This is usually for the best; after I’ve sprinted through a book the first time, eager to see what happens next, I’m able to sort of stroll more leisurely through it the second time around.

But I think I’m extra weird, because there have been times reading the Lord of the Rings when I actually want to be finished so I can read it again. Does that make any sense? Actually, don’t answer that. I don’t care.

So far I’ve mostly been referring to re-readings that happen a few years apart. But how about the sometimes mind-blowing experience of reading a book again after as much as a decade or more has passed? Just as your perception of, oh, everything changes as your learn and grow and age, so it is with beloved books. You feel differently about the characters. You have a better sense of the scenery, since you no longer skip over physical descriptions. You think you finally get what the author meant with a certain scene or lesson. While it’s a risky move to revisit anything from your childhood, I’ve rarely been disappointed with a 10- or 20-year book reunion.

In the end, as with so many things, I don’t think that it’s an absolute verdict: “Rereading Is Good”. As much as I love relishing a few old favorites, I still try to branch out with new books, too. I’m not terribly adventurous though; I often go with recommendations from friends and acquaintances rather than just picking random books at the bookstore. (And yes, although I’m not anti-Kindle I do still buy books at the bookstore. For now.) Who knows? Maybe I’ll find another favorite that I’ll love enough to want to visit again sometime.

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50 thoughts on “Do You Reread Books?”

  1. It’s funny how we all start as re-readers— you ask your mommy to read you the same story night after night, till she’s ready to blow her brains out from “Goodnight Moon,” or “the Three Little Bears.” At some point, you turn toward variety and the new thrill

    . But lately, I’ve been craving a book that I want to read night after night, or better yet, one that is read to me. This summer, I’ve been listening to Donna Tartt read “True Grit” over and over on audio, and it never gets old.

  2. I re-read and re-watch. There’s a comforting sense of treading familiar roads, coupled with the pleasurable expectation of discovering something not encountered the first time around.

    One of the many books I re-read is Jane Smiley’s Horse Heaven. The book is set in the horse-racing world and is written from the point of view of various human and animal characters. I’m particularly in love with one of the equine characters: Justa Bob. Justa Bob is one of the most wise, charming, kind, philosophical and fascinating literary characters I’ve ever encountered. Every word written from Justa Bob’s perspective has me in thrall.

    Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series is also perfect for a re-read, especially those books focusing on the City Watch, Death and the Witches.

    I’m currently in a phase where I have so many new books that I haven’t re-read old favourites in quite some time. But I’m comforted to know that they’re sitting there on my shelves, patiently waiting for me to pick them up again.

  3. I actually have a shelf in my nightstand solely for books I re-read so regularly that I feel the need to have them close at hand. They’re a weird mix: Franny & Zooey, Fitzgerald’s short story collection, Tender is the Night, To Kill a Mockingbird, Pride & Prejudice, Anne Sexton, Sun also Rises. But I rarely read them cover to cover anymore; usually I find a part that fits my mood, is comforting, or can make me laugh. They’re like old friends I can call whenever I need to.

  4. Wait, did I write this article? I’m an avid re-reader and re-watcher. Everything is different the second time you read it; sometimes better and sometimes worse. And I love watching movies I love over and over again. West Wing (as mentioned by some other readers) is one of my favorites and Top Gear and Dr. Who from the BBC.

  5. I re-read my favorites after enough time has passed that I’ve forgotten details and whatnot about the book in question :) I’ve re-read The Time Traveler’s Wife about four times now, and it seems new-ish each and every time… plus when you’re re-reading you can skip around and just focus on your favorite parts.

  6. I’m a few days and a server move late here, but I’m a habitual re-reader. I have a number of books, both fiction and non-fiction, that I like to revisit. Pam Dean’s version of ‘Tam Lin’ has been getting a yearly reread from me for a while. Its so intensely layered with literary references and allusions that I get different things out of it when I visit it again, because my own knowledge keeps expanding. I think its a very rich book that allows you to find new things in it every time you pick it up.

    Snow Crash, Gift of Fear, Sandman, To Kill a Mockingbird — I’ve had them on my rotation list for a while. I reread Catcher in the Rye last year with some trepidation, afraid that I’d find Holden unbearable now that I was an adult, but I was surprised to see how sad I felt for him and how lost he came across to me. I identified with his anger as a teenager — my relationship to the book now was completely different.

    What’s the point of having bookshelves if you’re not planning on rereading whats on them?

    1. A couple of years ago I started asking myself this same question, and this led to a totally new approach to book buying. I have always loved reading, and when I went to college I became a bit of a book hoarder. Now, after moving my library several times, some of them across international borders, I’ve become wiser and more selective about the books I own. For example, I used to think that a good personal library needed to include books that are considered classics. WRONG! Go to your neighbourhood library, and they will probably have six copies of Jane Eyre, so it’s not vital that you own one. Also: why let that book that you bought at the airport to pass the time on a transatlantic flight take up an inch of shelf space, if you already know who the murderer is and you’re not going to read it again?

  7. I was a near-obsessive re-reader as a child, and I still have a few favorites that I’ll consistently turn to about every year or so. Chief among them is I Capture the Castle, a forever favorite that I start pining for every spring. It definitely gives me that “let me be done so I can start over” feeling – I love every moment of that book, but I find myself sad for the innocence of the beginning before I reach the end.

  8. I definitely do. It’s like all good things on this sweet earth: be sure about something pleasurable because you already know it, or try something new with the ‘risk’ of discovering more pleasurable (or worse) ugly stuff.

    I think Harry Potter: Prisoner of Azkaban is one of my most re-read books.

  9. I have certain books that I go to when I’m upset/unsure/lonely/sad. And I don’t mean that in a negative way, at all–I draw strength from the characters and situations, as well as from the general feeling of comfort I feel when in their company.
    I re-read His Dark Materials at least once a year. It’s almost like I need it as an underlying strength to teach me (and remind me) of what life is about. I always resort that those books, or “Charlotte’s Web,” when I need perspective.

  10. Of course I reread books! I consider some of those books old friends. Some of my very favorite books I’ve read so many times that I can just open to any random page and dive back into the story (especially helpful when you’re short on time!). I can’t imagine never re-reading some of my favorites: To Kill a Mockingbird, the Liaden series, Terry Pratchett’s books, Tale of Two Cities, or the Vorkosigan books. Those books have been with me through a lot of crap in my life!

    With that said, I do have some books from when I was younger that I know I wouldn’t be able to reread without completely changing my perceptions – those books I don’t open but I keep them for the memories they bring up when see them.

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