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.

Photo: Getty

50 thoughts on “Do You Reread Books?”

  1. I definitely reread books. The experience of reading the book the first time is much different from reading it the second time. I’m a constantly evolving individual so sometimes a book speaks to me more, or at least differently, at different points in my life. An interesting thing to do is to reread books from one’s childhood. I loved “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe” when I was a child, so rereading that reconnected myself to the 9 year old Chrissie.

  2. Anything by Tamora Pierce. I have all of her books and I reread them often enough that it does get in the way of reading the new books on my “to read” pile :) I can’t help it. Her stories never get boring to me.

    1. Oh, I love her books. I read the first Alanna book on a car trip in California when I was pretty little. Whenever I start rereading it, I get this very strong sense memory of the car trip – think early morning, slightly cramped in the jeep, the best fresh/dry/cold early morning air, the sun coming over the elephant-toe hills, Jimmy Buffett on the CD.

      On another note, I really like how her writing seems to have gotten more complex – very handy for readers growing up!

      I know it’s hard to pick, but who is your favorite heroine?

  3. I re-read over and over. LoTR and Harry Potter being the ones that seem to get the re-read the most. There’s nothing better than escaping the daily trials and tribulations of reality by heading off to Hogwarts or Rivendell in your mind…Rivendell is especially wonderful during the cold, blustery winter months in Chicago.

    I’m currently embarking on re-reading Judy Blume and collecting all of the Nancy Drew’s published in the late 50s, early 60s. This has been an ongoing challenge as finding them is not an easy task.

    1. Have you ever read Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women who Created Her? Oh, man, that book. It ruined my illusion of the series books that I devoured as a kid (Nancy Drew among them, but Babysitters Club, Sweet Valley, and others), but it was really interesting.

  4. I definitely reread, and now that I’m slightly wiser about spending, I’ve been trying my hardest not to buy books that I haven’t already read once and wouldn’t read again. It’s not always a totally new experience, though I do realize things about characters or change my mind about what I like/dislike. I also enjoy the comfort of knowing what’s going to happen and meeting these familiar characters again.

  5. This is a perennial argument between me and Mr. Cupcake, who is also a non-ReReader. From time to time, he likes to go through our books and pull a bunch to trade and I kinda make it impossible for him. “Wait! Not that one! I love that book!” is shouted numerous times when this happens.

  6. I don’t know the last time I re-read a book. I own very few books just because I only keep ones I *really* love, and have taken to library visiting instead. There’s so many new ones out there!
    I can think of 2 I want to reread – The Phantom Tollbooth (since I haven’t read it since 4th grade) and Nada (which is in Spanish, so my comprehension wasn’t that great).
    I don’t relate book rereading to TV or movie re-watching, though. I’m pretty okay with rewatching things, probably because the time commitment with those is so much less?

  7. Oh yes. I have comfort books that I read when I’m upset or depressed or just need something familiar: Speak, Good Omens, and Harry Potter are all books that I’ve read more times than I can count. I have specific emotional ties to certain books.

    If there’s a new book in a series coming out, I always re-read the most recent book, or sometimes the whole series, in preparation. If there’s a movie coming out based on a book, I re-read the book before seeing it.

    I can’t imagine never re-reading a book. Certainly there are some books that I will never re-read, but all of my favorites get re-read several times.

  8. I reread nonfiction books all time, rarely novels. My reading comprehension skills aren’t that great, and with books read solely for informations, I often need to reread them. I usually get fully absorbed in a novel or abandon it altogether, which sort of reduces the need (or want) to read it again.

  9. I can’t reread books too often, or I will suck all the fun and interest I’ve had in them. They become too predictable to me and I get bored. As much as I have my favorites, I need to be able to find new favorites and newer books to enjoy rather than just sticking with my old favorites out of comfort and familiarity.

  10. I just finished reading one of my favorite books from high school for the 6th time. I’ve read the entire Harry Potter series at least 3 times. I’m more likely to re-read than to try something new.

    This goes for TV, too. I’ve watched West Wing straight through thrice, plus the episodes that played on Bravo.

  11. I read Fahrenheit 451 every year during Banned Books Week! But that’s the kind of gal I am.

    I enjoy a good re-read, although I usually go a couple of years between re-reading things. I tend to be a bit fussy about books. When I love them, I love them hard, but it’s very hard for me to get invested in ones that I’m just indifferent toward. My schedule is so crazy that I don’t always have as much time for reading as I’d like, so I’d rather go for a classic that I know I’m going to enjoy than try out something that’s a waste of my time.

    That’s not to say I don’t try new things. Amazon and Good Reads and other places where you can check out “books like X” are really helpful in finding things that I have a better probability of enjoying. But there’s still something comforting in picking up Charlotte’s Web for the 27th time, or some such. Depending on what’s going on in my life at any given time, I will almost always find something new in an old favorite.

    I’m also a habitual movie re-watcher, which drives The Mister crazy. He’ll re-watch things on occasion, but usually only if he’s doing something else, like working on a puzzle, during re-watches and wants the tv on as a distraction. He finds it hilarious that I’ve seen Speed Racer a half dozen times and still stare at it with my mouth hanging open and jump around and tense up during the race scenes. Ha.

  12. I reread books all the time, although not as much as I used to. As a child I would reread books over and over and over again, especially Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Golden Compass, and anything by Roald Dahl.

    Now I find myself doing it less. I will say this though–I began rereading Little Woman and found the first few chapters so overwhelmingly preachy and saccharine that I decided to let it rest so that I could still love it like I did as a girl (My love for Jo goes untainted). Anyone else have that experience?

  13. I am very much a rereader, for many of the same reasons. And yes, I have restarted a book immediately after finishing it. Diana Wynne Jones especially. Her books have so much happening in the last ten pages that with each one I finish the book, reread the last chapter trying to figure out WTF just happened and then start back at the beginning.

  14. I do re-read books, and I read much too quickly in general. Actually, the entire section about reading too fast is an entirely accurate description of myself, right down to the bit about Lord of the Rings, which I am currently re-reading!

  15. I’ll reread a favorite book maybe every 1-2 years; it’s nostalgic and more relaxing when I already know how the story ends. However, I absolutely cannot understand why some people want to routinely reread the same books. My one friend has literally reread Emma three times already this year. I mean, I liked Emma, but that sort of persistence just seems a wee bit over the top, personally.

    But then again, I also get annoyed when my friends want to re-watch the same movie over and over. So, maybe I’m more adverse that normal to repetitiveness.

    I’d actually be really interesting in seeing how our opinions on rereading are connected to our personality. All of my friends who are chronic re-readers are also the friends that almost always order the same dish at our favorite restaurant, and are a bit more homebody-ish (no neg. connotation meant). They just really like consistency. Just my personal observation.

    1. I have to really love a book to put it on the re-reading list, but that list is fairly long. It’s got to be something that serves a purpose; it makes me feel more comfortable when my world’s in upheaval, for example, or reminds me about friendship when I’m feeling lonely. But rarely is there a book that I finish and start again within less than six months.

    2. I’d actually be really interesting in seeing how our opinions on rereading are connected to our personality.

      I think that’s probably a pretty good call. I’m a fussy eater who always orders the same thing, and we go to the same restaurants over and over. I re-read books and re-watch movies, and we don’t have cable, we just watch old stuff we love on Netflix. And even then, I get annoyed when my favorite tv shows get rid of characters and replace them with new ones.

      People who like change like change! Sticks in the mud like me will always be sticks in the mud!

      1. I’m the same way. I’ve seen the entire series of Friends multiple times and still watch re-runs on TV. I’ll rewatch episodes of The X-Files anytime (except for seasons 9 and 10, which are dead to me). I go to a restaurant and order the same thing most of the time.

    3. That’s an interesting idea. I’m the one in my relationship who likes trying new restaurants and visiting new places, yet I’m also the one who rereads books. Maybe I like to occasionally balance my adventurous self with comforting familiarity? That would explain my love for romance novels too.

    4. I re-read books, re-watch movies and tv series, and yep, I usually order one of a few favorite things on restaurant menus.

      But, I also obtain a ridiculous number of new books, now shows/movies to watch, and different restaurants to visit.

      Hopefully that slightly offsets my set in my ways ways…or something like that.

  16. I reread books all the time. Harry Potter, before a new book was released or a new film is released. Yes, the whole series up to that book or film. Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series, because with every reread (usually some 18 months, or three semesters, apart) I notice new references and witticism. I finally get the funny about all the punctuation being stolen from the last chapter or Ulysses!
    And my youth favorites, especially Thea Beckman’s books. Love love love to reread those and see just how much feminism is in them.
    Rereading is my life. Most of the books on my shelves have been reread at least once. If I don’t think I’ll want to reread a book, and I won’t need it for my studies later on, and it doesn’t have sentimental value, it goes off to friends or the second-hand bookshop. BOOKS!

      1. I KNOW! The Book Depository UK sent it on March 1st, so it should get here any day now. But I’m definitely finishing my series reread (halfway through Something Rotten right now) before I start, because I just notice and understand way more that way.

        1. I thought it was coming out last summer (turned out to be Shades of Grey instead), so I just re-read all of them about six months ago. I don’t have time to do it now, but I definitely think it was worth having read them so recently. There’s so much I had forgotten! I guess that’s what happens when you publish stuff at the glacial Fforde pace.

  17. Absolutely, yes. Do people re-watch movies? I’ve never understood those who refuse to reread a book. I’m currently rereading a Holocaust memoir (Triumph of Hope) that I haven’t picked up in about 5 years, so it’s familiar but not entirely fresh in my mind. Even trashy novels that are fun but not great literature, I reread those (sometimes skipping the dull points) all of the time (I keep a stack under my bathroom cabinet. haha). I was considering rereading Pride&Prejudice this week too, even though I also have a stack of new books I should get through. Old books are like friends, and reading them often reminds me of other times in my life.

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