Sunday Salon: Rereading

The Sunday

I have never been a rereader. As Nick Hornby writes in The Polysyllabic Spree:

“I don’t reread books often; I’m too conscious of both my ignorance and my mortality.” (p. 25)

I agree. With so much out there to read and so little time in which to read it, it’s hard for me to justify rereading. I’ve only read the Harry Potter series once; I never reread the previous books in preparation for the next installment’s release. My shelves are full of favorite titles I want in my collection but have had no plans to revisit. I don’t mind; I see my library is a reflection of me, so naturally it should be made up of my favorites. Even if I don’t reread them yearly…or ever.

I’ve come to think there is another, deeper reason I avoid rereading. The books I would reread are my favorites, the ones I couldn’t tear myself away from when I read them the first time. What if, upon rereading, I discover they’ve lost some of their magic? Suppose I find they don’t affect me the same way? I would be so disappointed. And so I leave them on the shelf.

Recently I’ve had reason to reread several books. A college course assigned Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, which I’d read in high school. While I’d been indifferent to the novel the first time through, I couldn’t believe how much I loved it upon rereading. There were To Kill a Mockinbird by Harper Lee and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, others I didn’t care for in high school, which I chose to listen to in the past few months and ended up adoring. And then there was my most recent reread, The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa, which I liked when I read it on my own and liked even more when I read it again for my book group.

My point? I’ve yet to not enjoy rereading a book. That’s a little confusing. What I mean is, even the books I hated the first time around, I’ve liked the second. It’s making me reconsider my habitual stance on rereading.

(Of course, I don’t think there’s some sort of magic in rereading that renders every revisited book amazing, no matter how hated it was after the first meeting. There are some books I’m not going to like regardless of how many times I reread them. Like A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.)

This month, I have the opportunity to reread one of my absolute favorite YA novels of all time, ever. I can still remember how thoroughly Kristin Cashore’s Graceling sucked me in, how invested I was, how hard it was for me to tear myself out of Katsa’s world and back into my own. The characters were–are–so real to me. I’m torn: part of me thrills at the thought of getting all wrapped up in Graceling again, but the other part hesitates for fear it won’t be as magical the second time through.

And so I call on you, my fellow readers: What are your experiences with rereading? Have your opinions of books changed with a second (third, fourth) reading? Do your very favorites lose or gain with repeated readings?

Join the Conversation


  1. I’m a huge fan of rereading. When I was a little kid, we didn’t get to the library very often, so I had a limited selection of books to read. I ended up reading the same books over and over, and learned to enjoy emmersing (sp) myself into a book for extended periods of time, gleening more and more from it each time. I still do that today with some books, like having read the HP books 25 or so times each. If I really enjoy a book, and I feel there’s more to be gotten out of it (like Catch-22) I will read it multiple times. Catch-22, Dorian Gray, Jekyll & Hyde, Possession, The Nature of Jade…those are the ones that come to mind right away, but I know there’s more than that! I usually leave a couple years between rereadings, except with Harry Potter.

    1. Hm, it sounds like I should give it a go. I guess a book that can’t stand up to at least one reread isn’t worthy of a spot on my favorites list! There are definitely some I’ve read that I could get more out of. Thanks for your input 🙂

      As a side note, I just picked up a copy of Possession for $1 and am really looking forward to it!

  2. One of my goals for 2011 is to reread more. I tend to avoid it because, like you, I’m afraid to be disappointed. But that hasn’t happened. Instead, I’ve had some great rereading experiences and will strive to reread more favorites.

    1. I like that goal! I’m happy to hear your rereading experiences have been positive so far.

      It’s hard for me to set a goal like that for myself because the pull of everything I haven’t yet read is so strong. Maybe my version of the rereading goal could be not to resist rereading a book, should the opportunity arise!

  3. I have the opportunity to re-read books every year as part of my job. I am an English teacher, and have a few standards that I get to teach every year. I love it. Books like Of Mice and Men, The Hunger Games, Speak, and Lord of the Flies just get more and more brilliant with every re-read and re-teach. (And, I’ve taught Their Eyes Were Watching God. That is one amazing book!)

    I don’t re-read books at home simply because I am trying to get through my TBR pile so that I can get more books on my classroom shelves. Or I’m trying to finish library books or books for a book club. But, there is pleasure for me in revisiting the standard books that I teach over and over. I learn something new every time!

    1. I’ve always wondered if, had I been a teacher, I would enjoy rereading the same books every year. I can certainly understand you limiting your rereading to classroom books–otherwise, you’d just spend all your time rereading and never read anything new! The sort of books you reread for class are the kind I’d be rereading, so I’m starting to think they’d probably hold up pretty well.

    1. That’s a point over which I’m torn as well. So many books, so little time! I think, though, that when the opportunity to reread a book comes along (for a book group, say), I’ll try to be less hesitant to do it.

  4. I would like to be a re-reader but this seldom works out because there are so many other books I need to read for the first time. But I do keep most of the books I’ve read–if not because I love them then because I think maybe I’ll like them better the second time (promising that you’ve had this experience!). As you’ve seen in my recent Sunday Salons, I’m thinking about weeding out the shelves and I’ll give serious consideration to the books I’ve already read.

    Like you, I am a little afraid that I won’t love a book I’ve already read. Good news for me is I have a terrible memory and so sometimes re-reading is like experiencing a book for the first time again. Though I’ve read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man twice and hated it both times.

    Have a wonderful Sunday, Erin.

    1. It’s funny, for me, I tend to end up getting rid of mostly books I haven’t read when I purge my shelves! I tend to acquire lots of used books and galleys, which are so inexpensive that I don’t have to be sure about a book before I welcome it into my home. When I purge, I often weed a lot of these books back out, realizing I’m not so interested in them after all. It’s a lot harder for me to get rid of books I’ve already read, because what if I want to read them again??

      I often don’t remember the plot of a book, but my favorites have a certain feeling associated with them. For me, that’s often what I’m afraid won’t be recreated upon rereading.

      You are brave to have read Portrait twice! I might have exploded with frustration 🙂

  5. I love rereading and I really want to do it more often. I had a situation like Amanda’s when I was a kid – we didn’t use the library, so usually I ended up reading whatever books I owned over and over and over. I always want to reread my favorite books, and the only reason I don’t more often is because I’m faced with the huge number of TBR books that I can then never read. I do worry a little about disappointment, but I usually know which books will stand up to rereadings and which won’t.

    1. Ah, the endless TBR pile! I don’t think I’ll be able to bring myself to reread books just for the heck of it–the call of my to-be-reads is far too strong. But, I think I’ll try to be more excited about rereading books when I have to (for a bookgroup, readalong, etc.). I’m starting to think if a book won’t stand up to rereadings, it probably shouldn’t be on my favorites list to begin with!

  6. I find rereading a great experience. I follow Joseph Campbell’s advice to follow your bliss, and he adds that if a particular song draws you listen to it. I do that with books too. When I am ultimately done with the book I recognize it and move on to another, but it doesn’t lose it’s magic, it just doesn’t cause me to vibrate as much, so I move on. Some books like The Lord of the Rings seems to perpetually hold it’s vibrancy, but I need to be in the right mood. The really good books have many levels and speak to me in different ways at different times of my life.

    1. That’s a great point–some books absolutely speak to me differently at different times of my life! That happened to me with Their Eyes Were Watching God, definitely. That’s a good thing to remember. Future readings and reactions don’t change how a book affected you at an earlier point in your life.

  7. I reread several Jane Austen books every year, not always the same ones each year, but she’s one of my ultimate comfort reads that I always get more out of each time I reread one of her books. Apart from that, this year I’ve reread a few shorter books that I enjoyed years ago, like A Room with a View, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and The Secret Garden and enjoyed them just as much or more the second time. I only hesitate about rereading a book I liked originally if it’s very long or sad! I feel I can only call a book a favourite if I have reread it though, I don’t know if that’s the way everyone evaluates their favourites.

    1. I definitely don’t use rereading as a requirement for favorite status, since I hardly ever reread! People’s responses to my questions here, though, have gotten me to realize that maybe it should be a requirement, or at least a consideration. I’m not sure anymore that a book that doesn’t retain its favorite status over multiple readings should be on my favorites list! I think I could handle rereading sad books, but really long books would be tough. They take up far too much time.

  8. I’ve had mixed experiences. In a couple of cases I’ve enjoyed the books much more but, and I think it may be because I left it quite a few years before re-reading, most times I’ve been disappointed. It’s difficult re-reading something you’ve always said is a favourite only to find you don’t understand why you first said that. For me I think there’s definitely a time limit. If I re-read childhood favourites I have to be prepared that I won’t enjoy them much. I’m not sure how it will continue as I get older.

    1. I’m sorry to hear many of your rereads have been disappointing. For me, I think I need a few intervening years to make a reread work. Interesting that it’s the other way for you.

      I definitely agree that childhood favorites rarely deliver the same impact upon rereading as they did when I read them as a kid. I’m ok with that–I can still appreciate what it was that caught me as a child. It’s my adulthood favorites that are tougher for me.

  9. I LOVE rereading. I’m a huge fan and I encourage others to reread because it’s such an interesting experience. I think every book we read is influenced by our stage of life in serious ways. And since we’re always changing, our impression of a book changes too. Yes, there is a limited amount of time and therefore a limited number of books to read. But I try to make sure I’m reading something worth reading, and a book I loved or a book I hated but maybe just needed a littler maturity to “get” is definitely worth picking up again. If I loved it, I find it’s like a revisiting an old friend. If I hated it, I tend to reevaluate and find the merit in it.

    Books that were ruined? I think the only one I can really think of is CATCHER IN THE RYE. I loved it as a teenager but I’ve read it twice since then and I just HATE Holden now. That said, the book is still a memorable one (I cried at the end last year, even as I was hating it). And it reminds me of being a teenager (a time I hated, but hey, it’s memory, right?).

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on rereading! You make a persuasive argument for why readers should give it a chance. With the few books I have reread, I’ve definitely found my reading of a book is influenced by where I am in my life. I think I’d like to do a bit more rereading and see how it goes.

      Interesting that Catcher in the Rye is the only one that’s lost its luster for you! I can definitely understand that. I think it’s a very teen book. I read it for the first time this year, and while I loved how real Holden seemed, I’m not sure I’ll be able to put up with him in a few years!

  10. I’ve never had a disappointing re-reading experience although sometimes I do feel too overwhelmed with fresh reads to make reading time for re-reads. This year has been far more about new reading overall, but I’m just re-reading some Margaret Laurence novels now and that’s reminding me how amazing re-reading can be, especially when spread out over a period of time. I think I’ll be making more time for re-reading in 2011.

    1. That’s wonderful that you’ve never had a not-so-good rereading experience! Time is a huge issue for me, but after reading all the comments on this post in support of rereading, I think I’d like to do more of it in 2011 as well. I wonder if anyone’s ever done a rereading challenge?

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