On Rereading

open book
Open Book by Sarah Browning (CC)

I’ve had rereading on my mind since  Nicole posted some thoughts on the subject. Even though there are more books on my ‘to be read’ pile than I can hope to get through, sometimes I’ll read a book anyway. I’ve tried to figure out why its sometimes worth the effort, and came up with a few reasons:

1) Different state of mind. I’ve never been able to enjoy any book I’ve read while traveling. I think it’s  because airports stress me out, and there’s too much stuff going on that I can’t focus. I’ve reread books I started while I was away, and really enjoyed them the second go around. I’ve also reread books I had good memories of when I was younger, and had a completely different reaction now that time’s passed.

2) Comfort reading. Sometimes I’m an emotional wimp. If I’ve read a book before, I know what’s going to happen, so I know how well I can deal with the subject matter. When I’m feeling a bit romantic, or lonely, or stressed out, and know there’s a particular book that will satisfy some sort of requirement, I will reread it.

3) To learn. I’ve come back to books to see how a writer handled craft issues that I’m having difficulty with. My books these days all have little torn pieces of paper in them that I mark as I read. I’ve also made a habit of noting down what things every writer does well, so I can look back at how they handled it. This might not require a total reread, but skimming different parts at a time.

Do you reread books? When do you re-read a book? Are they your favorite books? Or most challenging books? Or maybe you only read certain passages over again? I’m curious!

18 thoughts on “On Rereading

  1. The books I’ve most reread are the ones that most affected me when I read them the first time, I guess. I’ve read F. M. Busby’s The Demu Trilogy several times because he has some original ideas in there about the nature of man’s place in the universe that I had never seen before. Same with James P. Hogan’s Giants trilogy/series.

    For comfort, I’ve read The Chronicles of Narnia so many times I can’t count that high. (Honestly, if a door opened up right now in my cube at work, I wouldn’t even think twice. I’d step through and people could just wonder what happened to me.) Same for Zilpha Keatley Snider’s Green Sky Trilogy and The Hobbit.

    For craft, I’ve read Stephen King’s It the most times, I guess. Not only do I love the story, I love to see how he builds suspense and terror, how he slowly trickles information, how he jumps back and forth from POV and time period to others. Wonderful stuff.

    And then there are the ‘required’ rereads. You know the ones. Where book 3 comes out of a trilogy, and it’s been 10 years and you don’t remember what happened in book 2? :)

    1. Gary, do tell, does Zilpha Keatley Snider’s Green Sky Trilogy stand up to re-reading as an adult? I adored those books as a kid and I haven’t dared to re-read them for fear of them not being as wonderful as I remember.

      And yes, the last book symptom–having to read one or more or all of the previous books to remember and fully enjoy the last one.

      1. Well, I started rereading book 1 of Green Sky and . . . it’s not as good as I remember, no. And that saddens me. But that doesn’t mean it’s bad, it’s just that I’m not 12 and I see the world differently. I’ll finish rereading them “real soon now” and then maybe I’ll report on it on my blog.

    2. You know, I haven’t read The Chronicles since I was a kid, but I did reread them multiple times when I was young. I would do the same. I’d be too curious not wonder what’s on the other side!

      As for the required’s… these days I’ll try to skip those by reading summaries/recaps of the previous books online. It feels like cheating >.<

  2. I reread books, but only certain ones, and usually due to your reason #2. :)

    Funny: you can’t enjoy reading while traveling b/c travel stresses you out — whereas I enjoy traveling in part b/c I usually get to read more, which helps me relax.

    1. I wish it were the case! I can’t get lost in a book if I’m worried about other things… I’m a horrible flier… you wouldn’t want to be seated beside me!

  3. Theresa, do you ever read books to see how you’ve changed or maybe to see what is there that you didn’t notice/feel before? I’ve felt differently about Pride and Prejudice every time I’ve read it, from ok, sort of romantic as a teenager, to enjoying the snarky commentary, to almost not being able to read it for the limits and narrow constraints on women and felt like the the snarky commentary is laugh so you don’t cry humor.

    Likewise, Tehanu, by LeGuin was kind of baffling when I read it when it came out–I would have been about 15–but re-reading it recently my thoughts were, Oh thank goodness she wrote this YES. When I was a teenager I hero worshiped Ged, but as an adult I wanted that re-examination of the sexism that had imbued LeGuin’s earlier work in spite of her best efforts and I was so relieved to hear more about Tehanu and to excavate the foundations of the world and its limits a bit more. And yes, to see them as adults, rather than teenagers.

    Likewise I hadn’t been able to re-read the Narnia chronicles since I was a kid, because I had felt so betrayed by The Last Battle. But now I’m re-reading as I follow along with Ana Mardoll’s deconstructions and it’s fascinating and a way to see many smart people’s reactions and thoughts on the series. It’s a totally different way to re-read something, almost academic, that allows me to interact with the books again after decades. I’m really happy about that because I adored them as a kid.

    1. Can you point me to Ana Mardoll’s deconstructions? It sounds like something I might be interested in, given my love of the series, including The Last Battle. :)

      1. This is the index to her blog. Search for Narnia since there are a lot of things on this index! http://www.anamardoll.com/search/label/index

        This is one of those sites where reading the comments is essential. They are highly moderated and there’s a very specific commenting policy and they contribute greatly to the discussion. Be prepared though; many people, including Ana, love these books, but find many parts problematic and/or open to wildly different interpretations. I love the posts because it has helped me to love the Narnia books again but occasionally people say things that make you go, WHUT? I’m never going to be able to look at Lewis the same after this.

    2. Definitely. I reread The Last Unicorn recently, and the story that made me cry beause it was beautiful, when I was younger, made me upset/angry as an adult. Similar to your experience with P&P I suspect. Though, P&P is one of the books I read for comfort. I never thought of it something meant to be read seriously. Sometimes there’s no going back.

  4. I rarely reread books, but if I do, it’s generally one of my favorites. Sometimes I’ll do it before the movie version is released, just to refresh my memory, or sometimes, like you said, it’s a comfort read. There’s nothing like a well-loved book to boost the spirits. :)

  5. I ought to indulge in more comfort re-reading. My goal of reading sixty new books this year has definitely slowed me down, and my constant fear that I’m behind in the field also cuts back on re-reads. Yet I want to pick King and Straub’s The Talisman and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings up again.

    I managed to re-read Mark Waid’s Kingdom Come recently. That was to see if it held up; I was surprised to find it stronger than I’d originally evaluated. Seeing how my tastes have changed or what I missed are big draws to re-read books.

    1. Sometimes if I think a book is difficult / boring, I wonder if I’m missing the knowledge I need to decode it at the time. Time does change some books for me. And that’s ambitious! A lot of books!

  6. I’ve re-read To Kill a Mockingbird five times. I get something new out of it every single time. And the themes are still so relevant today – especially in regards to race relations.

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