Rereading the Same Book

Nancy J. Cohen

Recently, I’ve returned to reading The Lost Prince by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I like his other stories as well: A Little Princess, Little Lord Fauntleroy, The Secret Garden. These historical novels have tropes that appeal to me, and I could read them many times over. But who wants to reread something you’ve already perused when you have a wealth of new books on your shelves and on your ebook reader?


I feel guilty rereading a volume when I “should” be reading a friend’s work to give a review, a book I’ve obtained at a conference, a freebie on my Kindle, or the books sitting on my shelves for years begging for attention. How about the newest books by my favorite authors? Shouldn’t they get priority? Why am I wasting time reading something I’ve already enjoyed when authors who are alive and well clamor for my reading hours?

I don’t even reread my own books, although I’d like to return to my original Light-Years trilogy and immerse myself in that world again. At least I had the chance to do so when I revised these titles for their digital editions.

How about you? Do you ever go back and pick a book off your dusty shelves or buy the digital version of a book you’ve already read? Does it make you feel guilty that you’re not sitting with a current novel whose author can use your customer review?

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Do you have a system to prioritize the books you read? For newer books, I’ll read the next installment by a favorite author or a book by a friend before titles by an unknown writer. The beauty of the digital age is that when you discover a writer you like, you can order the next book in a series right away on your Kindle or Nook. So the historical novel I bought at SleuthFest and am reading now, by an author previously unknown to me, is number one in a series. I’m not even halfway through it, and I know I’ll want the next two books.

This points out two issues about our current age that are both troublesome and exciting. The next books in a series are literally at your fingertips. Push a few buttons, and they are yours. That’s the good thing.

However, I discovered this book as it lay out for display at the on-site conference bookstore. Discoverability is the hot issue today. Most of us with small press or who are indie published do not see our books in bookstores, thus browsing readers will never discover us that way. If I hadn’t spotted this intriguing cover, I’d never have known about this writer. And that’s sad. We have to turn to free books online or book group recommendations to discover new authors whose series we might decide to follow.

Is there room for the older volumes sitting on your shelves, for those books you’d love to read again if only you had the time?


37 thoughts on “Rereading the Same Book

  1. I do have favorite books I reread from time to time. Nothing guilty about it — the books are often just what I need at that time. My only system for what to read next is what I feel like reading. Sometimes it’ll be because I just got this author and have been waiting for a book by him; other times, I feel like a particular genre. I think that’s the hardest thing about discoverability — marketers want to predict the sales, and they can’t!

    • How nice to be able to pick what you want to read all the time. Often I’m reading a book to give a review or for a contest or because I know the author. Life is short. We should read what we enjoy.

  2. I definitely reread my favorite books from time to time. I only buy a book if I I know I’ll read it more than once. Often I read a new book and reread an old favorite at the same time. I don’t do the eReader thing. Ink and paper books for me always!

    By the way, Frances Hodgson Burnett is a woman!

    Happy reading and writing! from Laura Marcella @ Wavy Lines

    • A woman? I never realized! Guess I should read the author’s bio. I like my Kindle or iPad for trips but read print books at home. Saves room in the suitcase.

  3. I re-read MISERY by Stephen King once a year. It takes me a day to do it. It is not even my favorite King book but I identify strongly with it, having had my very own Annie Wilkes in my life for a time. Some 27 years and 27 readings later it still sends a shiver down my spine.

  4. I’ve read RED DRAGON a number of times over the years. Still have my hard cover first edition copy. I consider it the perfect thriller. Back in college, I read THE LORD OF THE RINGS twice. Of course, the Tolkien trilogy counts as three books. 🙂

  5. I’ve recently been listening to some my old favorites on audiobook. Generally, I’d rather read a book than listen to it, but you can’t read and drive at the same time, so listening is a nice way to review something I’m already familiar with.

    • I admire your ability to drive and listen. It’s something I can’t do because I’ll visualize the scene. That can be dangerous when driving.

  6. I keep a list of books to be read, so books and authors I want to keep up with don’t fall through the cracks. This applies to books to be re-read, as well. I make it a point to read a book by Chandler and Hammett once a year, and newer authors who didn;t put out a book this year will get a re-read. It’s good to re familiarize oneself with why an author resonated in the first place.

    • You’re smart to be organized. I wish I had time to reread many of the authors on my shelves, but alas, too many new books call for my attention.

  7. I’m nearly finished re-reading Bruce Catton’s “Mr. Lincoln’s Army.” The almost poetic style in which he sets up and tells the story of one of the worst days in American history – the battle of Antietam – is awesome. I read constantly, and I’ll bet a third to half is stuff I’ve read before. There was a 10-year period where I read The Lord of the Rings every November. A friend of mine still re-reads it every spring.

    A book doesn’t need to be new, or new to me, to be worth a read. The way the story is told is as important to me as a reader as what the story is. I’ve been thinking of re-reading “Good Omens” next. I’ve only read that twice.

    • These are all good points, John. I’ve started putting pencil checkmarks in the books I have finished to keep track. Some books are like comfort food, I expect, reviving the feelings we first had when we read them.

  8. I have some re-reads on my list (and i just posted that Michener’s HAWAII is on sale for 99 cents.)

    Once every couple of years or so I listen to the Harry Potter series on tape. They make me happy.

    On the “re-read at any moment” list are The Stand, Kinflicks, and The Grapes of Wrath.

    As for new books, I have some go-to writers that I will always support. I also sample extensively and dedicate the occasional evening or long lunch to just reading samples from people I’ve met via social media or picked out based on cover/genre/blurb. If I like it, it turns into a download.

    The last wildcard is that for years my ex and I ran a flea market that developed a thriving used book section. I sold 2500 books at auction when we closed and moved. An errant box turns up occasionally and a thriller writer from the 1980s gets a new read.


    • I still have books on my shelves from years ago. Often I’ll pluck one out and give it its turn. I like your method of reading samples. I’ll often go to Amazon to check out the first pages of books that appeal to me. If I like it, I add it to my wish list for my next ordering.

  9. My bookcases look like the one in the image above. It’s been painful culling the choices down for my upcoming big move. I console myself with thought that I can get them again second-hand, on my Kindle, or at the library. I have so many books on my to-be-read list that I hesitate to go back and reread old favorites, but maybe I should! To Kill a Mockingbird comes to mind…

    • Moving is hard. I went through my books not that long ago, because I was afraid the boxes were collecting insects. I donated the ones I felt I’d never read and put the others, that wouldn’t fit in my bookshelves, into plastic storage containers. It’s hard to part with them so you have my sympathies.

  10. Absolutely I re-read favorites. The best medicine when I’m not feeling well is to immerse myself in another familiar, favorite world.

  11. Nancy–
    High on the painfully short list of good things about getting old is the end of guilt related to reading. I read what I like, when I like–who shall say me nay? I think of myself as a reading “pantser.” Inspired to pick of a favorite Elmore Leonard novel, I do just that, even though I just bought the latest Michael Connelly. And I no longer feel any moral imperative to finish what I’m reading. Is this sloth, some kind of slippage? Maybe, but for one who used to be wrapped very tight about such things, it’s highly liberating.

  12. I’m sure it is highly liberating, Barry. But when a friend needs a review, I have trouble denying their request unless I’m swamped with work. I’m often in the same boat myself so I sympathize. And I won’t review a book unless I’ve read the whole thing and write an honest review.

    I do encourage people to write customer reviews on all books they read. This really helps us authors. It need only be a few lines on why you liked a book.

  13. I have a ton of books on my shelves and my Kindle is about to burst, too. Now that I am writing, I find myself reading more than ever. That is partly to see what’s so great about somebody else’s hot new thriller. In many instances something about the popular book might not appeal to my “taste.” However, I will read it in attempt to learn something. Most often I do learn something. I like to read “new” writers. I’m a “new” writer, even though I am officially elderly. “Even at 70, he had a spring in his step.” I read that recently and have been moping around the house like I’m carrying a big load on my shoulders. I’m one of those people who didn’t get one of those instruction books in 1942.

    I have read a few books a second time. Don’t remember which. My current reading list is out of control. My time is occupied by shoveling snow or with the lovely editing.

    • Obviously, you do not live in the snow, Nancy. Up here in Montana, women shovel and run snow blowers. In summer, they mow lawns. Some even chew. (Yeah, don’t ask?)

      I’m sure Basil will back me up on this. It’s a Northern Girls kind of thang.

    • Yup. That’s why we love Southern Girls so much. Of course I come from a time before everybody had a/c. I imagine them laying back in front of a strong fan and sipping at a frosty mint julep or something.

  14. Regarding re-reading books. I can only think of 3 books (other than the Bible or reference manuals) I have reread on purpose.

    Two in Adulthood:
    Ireland – by Frank Delaney
    Once an Eagle – by Anton Myrer

    One as a Teen:
    The Practice Effect – by David Bryn
    (wore out my copy)

  15. I know this is late in the going of this discussion, but in glancing back through, I just realized something. Several (most?) commenters refer to their reading list. I haven’t had a reading list since college. I read what [‘m reading (there was a time in my life when I actually had two or three books I was reading a the same time) and when I’m done, I cast around for something else that catches my fancy, matches my mood. It’s all a bit random, I guess, although I prefer serependitous. Having a list, “I’ll read this, then this, then in July I’ll read … In March 2016 I’ll be reading…” Seems like it would take the joy of discovery out of it. Absolutely not the way I read. I don’t know what that says about me, but it’s just the way I am.

  16. Sometimes I think we need to read something we LOVE, to remind ourselves in the midst of reading a book that’s not so great, that greatness exists. It’s our way to replenish ourselves.

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