There are those who believe that a book should be read once and then passed on to its next reader; I am not one of them. Granted, many of the books I read end up becoming favorites of mine (19 of the books reviewed on my blog have been re-reads), but most end up being sold to a used bookstore (see On the Subject of Giving, Keeping, Selling, and Buying Books). I understand why people believe that once a book is read, all of its secrets and beneficial qualities have been leeched out through the act and that it has nothing left to give; I don’t agree with it, but I understand. So, I thought it would be interesting to discuss the reasons for re-reading a book.
Many readers consider their favorite books to be like old friends; when a reader loves a story, there is no way to curb their willingness to revisit it. In keeping with this, I have read some of my favorites multiple times: Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch four times, The History of Love three times, and American Gods twice (it’s a long book; cut me some slack here). What is wonderful about re-reading these stories is finding even more details that are easy to miss when first experiencing the tale. In addition to details that could be skimmed over in the original, many older books have different versions, especially if they are translated from another language or have been edited and re-released by the author. I re-read The Gunslinger for the third time because I had originally read the revised and expanded version that was released in 2003; upon finding an original illustrated printing, I jumped at the chance to compare it to what I had already read.
Another exciting aspect of reading with the intent to compare is re-reading a book after gaining perspective years later. Blue Like Jazz, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Geek Love were all re-read after a period of at least four years. Due to the amount of time between when I initially read, and subsequently re-read them, I am able to compare who I am now to who I was when I first experienced these stories. Thanks to my education in English creative writing and literature, I am now able to pick up details on subsequent readings that flew over my head initially. Another more practical reason for re-reading these books was to pad my editorial schedule so I could review them on the blog (I’m not afraid to admit it!).
Though my final examples don’t fit the definition of re-reading (as in the completion of a full book), I will argue that I read part of them, so I am including them on a technicality. Judging by the DNF (Did Not Finish) tag that book bloggers use on here, I certainly can’t be the only one who has started a book and given up by the halfway point. A legitimate reason for re-reading one of these DNFs is to see if you can. I revisited The Master and the Margarita in 2016 and The Divine Comedy last year and have to say that I was proud of myself for being able to do what I couldn’t before. Will I ever read them again? No; I have already sold both copies, but the main takeaway is that I was able to complete this challenge for myself and came out the other side with credibility when I boast about it. Another reason to re-read is to finally complete a series from the beginning so that any earlier plot points and story-lines aren’t lost. I did this in order to complete the Harry Potter series; I had originally only read the first five books as they were released and then fell out of the habit for the last two books (I know, I know, for shame!), so I bought a boxed set and started over from the beginning, which added to my appreciation for the growth of the characters and stories within.
If a story is entertaining and does its job, you will be willing to read it again. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you should re-read every good story since there are so many books and so little time, but I don’t think anything is lost from taking a break from the brand new and returning to an old friend. Sure, reading shiny, new hardcovers and being part of the initial launch of a budding bestseller is exciting, but it is okay to return to fond memories and characters from time to time.
So what do you think? Do you re-read books very often? Is there one specific book you make it a point to revisit on an annual basis (Christopher Lee was said to have read the Lord of the Rings books every year)? Let me know!