Are You a Rereader?

Today’s post is inspired by last week’s NYT ‘By the Book’ column in which Michelle Obama was asked “are you a rereader? What books do you return to again and again?” – two questions which prompted me to think long and hard about my own habits when it comes to rereading. Growing up my father reread his faded paperback copy of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ every year – it was almost a rite of passage and when we saw the book appear once more on the coffee table it signaled something both familiar and comforting. Growing up, I was also a great rereader – all my Enid Blyton books are well-worn and dog-eared from countless reads and rereading my Chalet School collection (an obsession of mine well into my twenties as I sought to find all sixty books in the series) was an annual event (which reminds me, I need to reread them all again – it’s been too many years!).

As an adult, however, I find (like Michelle Obama) that with limited time I prefer to read new books – though there are a few books which I’ve read more than once (or even twice). My Jane Austen collection certainly gets reread (especially after visits to Austenish places like Bath) and I have to admit Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights have had a few goes over. I also have (perhaps a bit embarrassingly) reread my Georgette Heyer collection more times than I care to remember. Going back to these books is like settling into a comfy chair with a box of chocolates – a relaxing indulgence (maybe…) but perhaps also a version of hygge:)

Rereading provides a host of different pleasures to the initial read – there’s familiarity as well as enjoyment, there’s a different kind of anticipation as the book progresses, and a different level of satisfaction when the book is finished. When I think about the books I reread, however, I notice that they really only represent a small part of my overall reading taste. If I’m honest they probably represent the more romanticized and escapist portion:)

So TKZers, are you rereaders? If so, what books do you turn to again and again? What do you think distinguishes a book that you want to reread from one which, while you certainly enjoyed it, you feel no need to pick up and read again?

32 thoughts on “Are You a Rereader?

  1. In fiction, almost never re-read. The only exception is Zane Grey’s 1927 novel Forlorn River which I’ve read numerous times. Why? I call it magic. Others might say it was the right book hitting the right kid at the right time.

    Non-fic is different entirely. The odds of my re-reading at least portions of a non-fic work are very high, especially if its one I wanted bad enough to buy, not borrow, because it’s info serves me again and again–like the discussion yesterday about books on writing.

  2. I think my library could consist of 3 books. By the time I finish book 3, I’d have forgotten book 1. I’m editing my current WIP now and have forgotten so much, it’s like I’m reading it for the first time (which is good, right JSB?).
    I tend to skim re-read if I’m following a series and want to refresh my memory. Sometimes I wish authors would use footnotes to let me know in which book such and such a point originated.

  3. Yes! I reread. It was my favorite thing to do in college, after all the work, just pick up an old familiar book. Now I’m trying to read new books, but I always sneak in an old one now and again.

    I school I reread Harry Potter (of course), Tamora Pierce, and practically everything I got from the library before needing to return it. When I’m feeling jittery and need to calm down, I open the Hunger Games. Right now I’m rereading Six of Crows for about the third time this year. And occasionally I’ll reopen one of the Heroes of Olympus books.

      • I’m still trying to figure out how she managed six of crows so flawlessly with just so many flashbacks. My favorite part about rereading is on the second time through I can pick out were the author foreshadowed/set things up, and then can try to use it in my own writing.

  4. I don’t have time to re-read as much as I’d like, but I have some favorites I make time for every so often:
    The Maltese Falcon
    The Friends of Eddie Coyle
    The Big Sleep / Farewell My Lovely / The Long Goodbye
    I also have a list of writers I try to touch base with every year or two, which involves some re-reading.

  5. Other than texts or rereading books aloud to children – rarely do I reread.
    I recall the critical aspects of characters/plots/emotion in books I’ve read.
    Books I have not read offer the limitless potential of a new and unknown reading experience.
    For me the old saying applies…so many great books/authors – so little time! ?

  6. I don’t like to reread fiction. I already know the punchlines to the jokes, and I know the plot twists and the whodunnits. Besides, like Tom Combs mentioned, so many great books, so little time!

  7. I’ve probably re-read Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter series more often than anything else. Margery Allingham’s Campion series and Greeley’s Bishop Blackie mystery series slightly less often. I’ll periodically dip back into Agatha Christie and Rex Stout. Some that I’ve reread more than once but not lately include _The Continental Op_ and Sherlock Holmes. I only recently became acquainted with Chandler. Will no doubt be rereading him in the future.

    Because I found the later Grafton alphabet mysteries harder and harder to get through, I went back and read “A” and “B”. I think they really were better.

    I devoured all the Jane Austins from my mother’s boxed set when I was in H.S. I periodically go back to one or another of those, particularly P&P. I’m rereading _The Power and the Glory_ (Greene) now, for the first time since college, looking at it as a student of writing and structure. I don’t remember literature classes talking about things like plot and scene structure, point of view, use of passive voice etc. Maybe those aspects are taken for granted in books that make it into lit classes. I’m noticing that a lot of these classical authors, including mystery authors, use a lot of adverbs, colons and semi-colons.

  8. I rarely reread books, fiction and nonfiction. As a former English major, I can glance at the first few pages, and most of the book comes back to me so there’s little pleasure in rereading. The only exception is three books I wrote myself. They were my first novels, a trilogy that has never been published, but I wrote them after I lost my dad, grandmother, and three pets in a few months, and they were about surviving tragedy through family and friends. They are my go-to novels when things are bleak for me, and as anniversaries of family deaths, including my mom and my two older brothers, come around.

  9. Childrens’ books. My daughter’s pre-school would periodically loose “Chicka-Chicka Boom Boom when they were tired of reading it.

  10. There are a handful of books I re-read. They are like old friends. Slaughterhouse 5, Ian Flemming, A Space Child’s Mother Goose all get read about once every other year. Something from Michael Crichton maybe every three years.

    Non-fiction becomes more of a reference library. Although, looking up something may lead to needing to re-read the whole book.

  11. Fun topic! It’s always interesting to hear in-depth reasons why other people reread books.

    I am likely to reread a piece of fiction if it satisfies at least one of the following three conditions:

    – It is sufficiently dense that I cannot take in all the details the first time round, e.g., Jorge Luis Borges, Roland Barthes, Milorad Pavić.

    – It is has a lyrical, word-play component that is pleasing to read aloud or simply enjoy the look of, e.g. John Banville, Anne Carson (especially her verse novels).

    – It contains an exemplary execution of a certain technique that’s too good not to probe time and again. At the moment I can only think of plays: Maeterlinck’s “Blue Bird“ feels like it ought to be for children but every so often it serves up some disturbing element (“There’s [the dog], whose tail I cut off with Pauline’s scissors,“ says a small child); and Joe Orton’s “What the Butler Saw“ is a dark switcheroo comedy set in a psychiatrist’s clinic that keeps getting more preposterous and that you keep buying (the psychiatrist repeatedly asks people—secretary, page-boy, policeman—to undress and swap clothes, thereby swapping identities). Actually, speaking of which, Roald Dahl’s “The Great Switcheroo“, or indeed most of his other short fiction, is worth rereading for laughs and lessons.

    I acquire non-fiction only if it is something I am likely to reread.

  12. I just reread “11/22/63” by Stephen King. I’m considering shifting to 1st Person POV for my next book and wanted to sample others’ ways of doing it.

    So I was planning to read a bit of “11/22/63” as a kind of craft-training exercise and move on, but wouldn’t you know it, I got sucked right back into the story and couldn’t put it down. Considering it’s 800+ pages, that was quite a suck. And with a surprise gift along the way. It turns out that in a book with maybe 200 scenes, all of them are in 1st Person *except one* (and a tiny fragment of another)! I couldn’t believe it when I found it. I won’t say where it is or what it is, but I can sort of see why he did this. Sort of. Has anyone else discovered this writing wrinkle in “11/22/83”?

  13. I reread:
    • Miss Minerva and William Green Hill throughout grade school (a recommendation from my Big Papa),
    • The Caine Mutiny almost annually in high school and college,
    • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – to my boys (that was my excuse, anyway),
    • all the Richard Brautigan I used to have, just to reboot my way of looking at things (alas, moves and limited space sent them to the library, and from there???)

  14. Since I have about 3100 books to read on my Kindle, I don’t reread. The only exception to that is once in a while, I’ll have a question and look back at my favorite Agatha Christie novels to see how she did it. She was such a master at characterization and plot. The problem I have is what to read next!

  15. I’ve read Stephen King’s “Salems’ Lot” about 5 times – I’m a bout due for a re-read – and I read Fredrick Forsyth’s “Dogs of War” about 3 times and “The Eagle Has Landed” 3 times. Currently reading “Super Structure” by JSB for the 3rd time and about to pick up “The Postman Always Rings Twice” for another go around.

  16. I’ve been reading and rereading Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries for over 40 years! They never get old. There is always something I missed from the last read. Alsohave been rereading the Narnia Chronicles for almost as long

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