On the Subject of Revisiting Books

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.

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As an aside, I feel like I would hit my head on one of those light bulbs.

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!).

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I understand the binding of books with string to ease the act of carrying them, but this just seems like too much work.

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!

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43 thoughts on “On the Subject of Revisiting Books

  1. I tend to read mostly nonfiction. But I don’t reread. Only books I have ever reread were, LOTR, Fahrenheit 451, and Jurrasic Park. All of which I read in high school and then revisited now as an aging man.

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  2. Several years ago I started rereading books that I hadn’t read for 15-20 years, the biggest reason is because my memories of the books is well, hazy. Once I get caught up with those, I’ll be rereading more recently read books as well. So that’s where I stand on the topic.

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  3. I’m carrying on the tradition of Christopher Lee. LOTR gets read a lot. I’ve only put it aside recently to read the rest of Tolkien’s Legendarium. Even then… I’ll come back to it just on account.

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  4. I always reread… infact, I already read at least ten books this year, 5 of them is in a series .. And also i have maybe three series on my Reread shelf, one of them is the harry potter series which became my annual tradition.. It would be third year now I’m rereading it.. every summer…

    Rereading helps me on reading slumps… If I read something that Im 100 %sure I will enjoy, it will surely put me back in a reading mood. 🙂 I think it’s a good thing you’re also revisiting the ones you dnfed,,, Im a moody reader and tehre are times I love a certain book but don’t other time.. 🙂 🙂
    this is a good discussion.
    Happy reading always…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I don’t do a lot of rereading, but I do some.

    There’s the case you mentioned of revisiting a series before reading its newest installment.

    I’d say reading variant editions or alternate translations of the same work doesn’t even count as re-reading.

    In science fiction, there’s the case of the “fix-up” novel where you may have read some of the stories in a novel already but read them again in the novel. (And I do re-read a lot of short stories.)

    Generally, I’m a grit-my-teeth-and-plow-ahead kind of reader so there are very few books I’ve started and haven’t finished.

    And, yes, I’ve revisited some of my English major reading later (especially the Jacobean plays), and it has proved rewarding.

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  6. I don’t re-read books all that often, but I do agree with you whole-heartedly. There’s definitely value in coming back to a book subsequent times, or retrying one that didn’t pan out; Little, Big by John Crowley is a ghost of mine in that respect.

    Also, I literally had the same experience with the Harry Potter series! I read along up until book five and then just fell out with the whole thing. I haven’t revisited it yet though. Regardless, you’re not alone!

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  7. I am definitely NOT a rereader. I usually read close to 100 books in a year, and if five of those books in a year are a reread that’s really high. I like a lot of variety in my reading, though, so it doesn’t surprise me. I’m not even good about finishing series. It is not uncommon for me to go a year before reading the next book in a series, even if they are all out. I’ve made an effort to reread some of my favorites recently, but I have to make a special effort.

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  8. Mandy Lipinski

    I used to read The Hobbit, LOTR, and as much of HP as I could get through in the remaining time every. single. year. Albeit, this was mostly done before college when I had more ample time for reading for fun, but I quickly realized I would never get through the list of books I hadn’t read if I kept with that pattern. That being said, The Hobbit and LOTR still get read about every 2-3 years in their entirety, and they hold this wonderful nostalgia about them. I’m an avid believer in re-reading of books, and I have a hard time parting with any book that I didn’t dislike “just in case” I want to re-read. There are worse things to hoard I guess…

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  9. Since I took up slow readinlast year in a bid to calm my bookish anxiety so many books, too little, I have been more inclined to re-read books. It more about finding a comforting read when I am feeling down to remind me that things will turn out ok or as a palate cleanser after some difficult topics especially non-fiction. And then of course to get out of reading slumps…So in most cases all these are familiar stories that do not necessarily require much mental exertion- Mostly

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  10. I’m not a big rereader at all but like you I have a few favorites I love to revisit 🙂 I think I’m more likely to reread a favorite in part or just some chapters or sections here and there when it’s on my mind. It’s so funny that you had to get through Master and Margarita as a challenge and that’s actually one of my favorite novels, AND one of the relatively few I’ve read twice just because I love it!

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    1. I suppose I should have been more specific; The Divine Comedy was more of the slog. I did enjoy The Master and the Margarita, but not enough to keep my copy. And I love that everyone has different tastes; it keeps us all in unique places while living on the island of literary love (sounds like a bad reality show, but you know what I mean).

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  11. I’m on the re-reading camp. Some books are so wonderful and rich, one cannot exhaust them in just one read. I also notice the distinction you made, some I re-read because I’ve changed so much, I want to experience reading the same book from a different angle. Sometimes I’ve read a book twice, to read it along with a friend. And I also know when a book has given me, as a reader, all it can, be that just one read, or many, there’s a point in which I believe I can dispose of the book, (or not), but know I’m pretty much done.
    Some books are good the first read, but AMAZING every re-reading. (I’ve re-read many books: Meditations on Don Quixote is a book I’ve read every January for two years, and it may have become a tradition, Don Quixote, Jane Eyre, some Christie and Sayers mysteries, Never Let Me Go, The Odyssey… I couldn’t count them all. Oh, I’m always reading the Bible, seriously, I have read it in full multiple times, and that’ll stay, 🙂

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    1. That’s fantastic! I wish I had more friends who read in real life so that I could discuss books/read in tandem with them (though I suppose I can thank the internet for making my hermetic existence more bearable haha). Thank you for this look into your own reading habits!

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  12. I re-read a lot of the time! Over the past few years, it’s been heavily influenced by my inability to buy new books 😦 But even so, I’m almost always re-reading. Some of the books I’ve read multiple times include the Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter,some of the classics like Pride & Prejudice, the Picture of Dorian Gray, the Inkheart trilogy …. and on and on, and on.
    So I definitely agree with you. Books can become a familiar and comfortable place to return to. Also re-reading a book after a while definitely teaches you something new. Perspective is interesting like that.

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  13. I’ve read Lord of the Flies a few times and listen to my book on tape reading of A Short History of Nearly Everything many times. Every time you return to a really good book or movie you take away something new.

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  14. I have a few books I reread fairly regularly, most notably the Dune series and Fear, Loathing on the Campaign Trail, and few Murakami novels.

    While I like the Harry Potter series, I feel I never got as into it as others around me. I didn’t start reading until just after the last book was released, so I read each one only once. No rereads, no long years of anticipation for the next volume.

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  15. I do love to re-read and definitely need to make more time for it. I think you can get something different from each re-read, perhaps something you missed on the first sitting and there’s books on my favourites shelf I really need to re-visit. If only I didn’t have so many unread books! Great post. 👍🏻

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  16. I re-read The Hobbit every year and I’ve read Pride and Prejudice many times as well. I find that there’s always something else I pick up on, or something that stands out that didn’t before, depending on what’s going on in my life.

    I find it funny that those who don’t read often seem puzzled by why I re-read books when I have literally hundreds of others on my shelves that are untouched – yet they will routinely watch their favorite movies over and over. It’s no different! It just takes a larger investment of time.

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  17. bookheathen

    There are books I keep, books I give away, and books I lend (which often amounts to the same thing, so that I do it rarely). It really is fascinating to pick up a novel one has read, maybe twenty years ago, and read it again for a whole new experience.

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  18. I love rereading books, revisiting old friends. Some of my books (like Jurassic Park) are taped together because I’ve read it so much. I think you get something different out of books the older you get. I didn’t like The Great Gatsby in high school or college but rereading it as an adult? I loved it. I had a better appreciation of dreams.

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  19. Pingback: Why I Re-Read | Bookstooge's Reviews on the Road

  20. Some very entertaining books are exhausted in a single reading. Da Vince Code was like that for me. Loved it, but no need to re-read. Perhaps plot-driven books are like this. Some books, like Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, are worlds unto themselves that must be explored many times. I read it every few years and hit new geological strata every time. I feel a little bit the same about visual Pop Art and some other modern genres — you see it once and it looks cool but it doesn’t pull you back for deeper and deeper observation like the Renaissance or Impressionist masters.

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  21. I’m an avid re-reader, though I don’t have any stories I make it a point to revisit regularly. On the contrary, I’m rather wary of rereading the same story too often, and potentially robbing it of that “special something”.
    In some ways my main motive for reading new stories is to see if “this one” is worth adding to my collection. After all, eventually you want something new, but at the same time, not all stories are equal.
    In an ideal world I’d be able to “temporarily erase” my memory of a story, so that I could re-experience it for the first time.

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  22. Pingback: On the Subject of Revisiting Books — The Past Due Review – Naked Cities Journal

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