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To Re-Read or Not to Re-Read

2013 April 2
tags:
by Molly Wetta
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A tall stack of books.
Does your to-read list look this? Photo by flickr user Sapphireblue

To re-read or not to re-read? In the book world, that is a big question. Faced with ever-growing to-be-read piles and the knowledge that it’s next to impossible to read all the books a reader would like to in a lifetime, it can be difficult to justify picking up that old favorite yet again. On the other hand, it is possible to miss plot points or details or for time to change someone’s perspective on characters, so re-reading can be beneficial and valuable. Plus, if one reads simply for pleasure, what’s the harm? There can be nothing more soothing than revisiting your favorite characters, especially if you’re in a reading slump. Suffice to say, there are varying opinions on re-reading. Here at the Hub and over at the YALSAblog we’re sharing our perspectives.

Annie Schutte: I almost never reread — there are way too many books in the world and I want to try to get through as many as I can. But there’s one exception: Kristin Cashore. I’ve reread Graceling and Fire each about a dozen times and cry every time. Those two books just seem to elicit a feeling that I keep wanting to go back to.

Amanda Margis: I don’t believe in rereading a book unless an outside force makes me. Sometimes I reread books I’ve previously read for a book club or if I want to highlight a book for a blog post or for a reading challenge. I’m currently trying to read all the Printz winner and honor books. Some I might reread since it has been years since I first read them and I’m interested now that I’m a professional in whether or not my opinion has changed. But most I probably will not reread. I feel there are so many books I’ve yet to read that it is a waste of my finite reading time to reread.

That said there are books I reread probably once a year, a paperback romance novel that I adore (The Bridal Season by Connie Brockway) and a certain picture book I can’t get out of my head or heart (Many Moons by James Thurber). And there are some books I would like to reread, but I worry about not enjoying them as much the second time around. For me, much of the pleasure of reading comes from the discovery and journey of new characters to new places. I can remember where and when I read certain books and what was going on in my life. They are tied to the memory and that place, and trying to recapture that exciting and new feeling just doesn’t work for me.

Jessica Miller: Though there are some books that I would love to revisit, I rarely have time to reread. Too many great new books are being published every year and with my professional reviewing obligations, it’s all I can do to keep up with the new things that are coming out! That being said, I do make time every year to reread my absolute favorite book of all time, Tamora Pierce’s Alanna: The First Adventure. I don’t think a year has gone by since I was about 12 that I didn’t reread that book.

Sarah Debraski: I love to reread! You could probably guess that since my whole series of posts here is about rereading favorites from my teen years. :) When I was a teenager and younger child I used to reread all the time. I had a hard time finding new books that I liked in my library, so I just reread all the ones I knew I’d love already. As an adult I reread much less (I don’t seem to have that problem anymore of finding new books!), but there are some that I do turn to like good old comfortable friends — books by Rosamunde Pilcher especially. When I reread now I love re-discovering what made me love a book in the first place, and when I reread books from my childhood I do like looking at them with a new perspective.

Chelsea Condren: I re-read almost incessantly! I love Harry Potter so much I have a tattoo of Hermione’s time turner, so it’s definitely my favorite thing to re-read. I also re-read a lot of novels if I think I might have missed something the first time. Stuff by David Foster Wallace or Jonathan Franzen is an example of this. In terms of YA stuff, I often go back and re-read stuff that was my favorite as a teen, which can either be awesome or totally backfire depending on how the writing holds up.

Diane Colson: Perhaps it is the job, or perhaps I’m using the job as an excuse, but as a librarian I try to read as much and as widely as I can. I like staying on top of new releases. I spend a lot of time looking for connections between the books I read, ostensibly to help with readers advisory, but more likely because it’s fun. All this is to say that I rarely re-read. When I do, it is mostly to prepare for a book discussion or to recall some aspect of the book. And when I dip into books I read many years ago, I do long to go back and read them again. Maybe after retirement?

Colleen Seisser: I NEVER re-read stuff! Not to go on a rant, but I am a slow reader (but avid audio listener), so I have a hard time finishing books in the first place when I have to read them, especially if they are not catching my interest. So usually I never go back and reread unless it is required of me. Also, not a huge fan of the classics — probably because that was what I was required to read while in high school — they represent educational reading to me even now and not recreational. I feel much of what is being written for teens today is way better than what was being published back when I was in high school. So I would much rather spend my time discovering new, more appealing teen novels rather than revisit what I was required to read back in high school (which I didn’t even enjoy reading back then, so why would I want to re-read it?).

Wendy Daughdrill: A book has to be really special for me to reread it. There are just too many good books out there I have not read once yet! However, I do have books that I like to revisit every few years — Stargirl and The Little Prince among them. I’ve found that as I get older I experience them in a different way each time or notice something I missed. My favorite kind of re-reading: sharing a book I loved as a child with my daughter.

Sharon Rawlins: My reading experience is usually “so many books, so little time” so I rarely reread books. Except when I’m feeling down — then I reread Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice or Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Their familiarity is comforting, and I never get tired of rereading those. My favorite book of all is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, so every few years I reread that as well. I see new things in it every time I reread it.

Mia Cabana: I tend to re-read books for 3 reasons:

  1. Old favorites. These books I’ve probably read more than just twice. They’re the comfort food of my book shelf and I never get sick of them!
  2. Books that I read once in a frenzy of plot-driven needing to know what happens next, and that deserve a re-reading to catch the details or appreciate the language. I feel like all of the Harry Potter books fall into this category for me … and pretty much any book I devour in one or two sittings probably could benefit from some revisiting.
  3. The accidental re-read. This isn’t the pitfall of getting halfway through a book and realizing I’ve already read it (I know friends who have done that, but I don’t think it’s happened to me yet?), but it does have to do with memory. Sometimes I will start flipping through a book I read a while ago to clarify a detail or because I’m about to loan it to a friend, and before I know it I’ve gotten completely sucked in and re-read the entire thing! I think this last case is special, because it reminds me of books that I knew I enjoyed once and maybe didn’t realize I wanted to revisit, and attests to their power when I get drawn back in fully a second time.

I remember re-reading a lot more when I was a teen, and it had very little to do with the above reasons and more to do with simple logistics. If I needed to read during a designated time and only had one book in my backpack or if I’d foolishly under-packed reading material for a road trip, re-reading what I had was infinitely preferable not not having anything to read. I wonder if the ability to download ebooks and the presence of e-readers will change this for kids of the future?

Faythe Arredondo: I try not to reread books. I feel as though I have so much reading to do as it is to keep up my teens that I feel guilty if I reread a book! That said, I do sneak in one here and there when I need a break from “work” related reading.

Molly Wetta: I have mixed opinions on re-reading. I have trouble keeping up with all the new releases I want to read, let alone fitting in the books I’ve missed over the years, so it seems crazy to go back and re-read an old favorite. I’m also sometimes nervous about re-reading. What if it doesn’t live up to my expectations the second time around? I regularly recommend Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger, but my love for it might be the result of my experience reading it as a teenager and I’m not sure I could duplicate it. (Maybe if I listened to some Ani Difranco as I read?)

That being said, I do occasionally indulge in a re-read. Sometimes I’m enjoying a book so much I race through it at breakneck speed and might miss some of the details (or just didn’t allow myself time to properly absorb it), and I’d like to reread some of those. *Glances over at bookshelves where the Graceling Realm series and Lumatere Chronicles sit, calling to me* When it comes to poetry, I’m an avid re-reader. I recently had to replace my battered copy of Federico García Lorca’s complete poems because the spine broke. I regularly open it at random and read a few poems.

What’s your opinion on re-reading? What titles can you pick up again and again, or which books would you like to revisit?

– Molly Wetta, currently reading Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos and thinking about re-reading Fire by Kristen Cashore

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4 Responses
  1. April 2, 2013

    Every couple of years I get this intense desire to reread Harry Potter. It never disappoints. I also reread when there’s a movie coming out, so I can have the book fresh in my mind.

  2. Liz permalink
    April 2, 2013

    I listen to audiobooks on my commute to and from work (it helps me keep up with the teens,) and sometimes they are so good I read the book later. There are also a few “comfort books” I like to go back to- The Giver, Pride and Prejudice, A Christmas Carol, and The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe are a few.

  3. Jenn permalink
    April 2, 2013

    I usually only re-read if I’m leading a book discussion and didn’t take notes or write questions the first time (or if I just need a refresher). The exception would be beloved book series, especially if there are new books being released: Harry Potter, Hunger Games, (and maybe twilight). I did read “The Fault In Our Stars” 3 times in 2012 and listened to it once this year. Will probably re-read TFIOS every year.

  4. ElaineReads permalink
    April 3, 2013

    Well, I am certainly going to be the odd man out in this discussion. I reread constantly. When a new book in a series is released, I like to reread the entire series first. If it is a really long series, I may just reread the last couple of books.

    There are other books that I reread simply because I love them so much.

    I do worry about the fact that I will never get to read all the books I want to, but I enjoy the new ones so much more when the story is fresh in my mind.

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