Currently, I am on my fourth go around with A Clash of Kings, the 2nd book in the now-ridiculously popular Song of Ice and Fire series (aka Game of Thrones) by George R.R. Martin.
I’ve read book 1 about five times, books 3 and 4 twice.
This is not unheard of for me. I reread books all the time. In fact, if given the choice, I will often reread a book then read a new book, depending on how much I want to read that new book.
The first book I made sure I had on my Kindle was Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. I read this book when it came out. It was, in fact, the first thing I’d read by Gaiman who has since become one of my all-time favorite authors. I was mesmerized. This was an epic tale without pretense. Just pure unadulterated story. And so much joy and sorrow in that story. I have since read each new book by Gaiman, finding over and over again that wonder of a tale well told. I have always believed that adults need their fairytales as much as kids do; I now have Stardust to back me up. Maurice Sendak reminded us that a child’s world is a lot scarier than we wish to admit – Coraline just reinforces that. And I’ve read each of those multiple times.
I have reread American Gods more than I can count. Whenever I need to believe that there is still some magic in this world, I read American Gods. No surprise, this need has grown as I have gotten older.
There are Stephen King books I’ve read at least 5-8 times – The Stand (between abridged and unabridged), Misery, The Bachman Books. These are books that when I read them, I can anticipate the next word, the next sentence. And while these are novels that cover some of the more horrific themes one can imagine – apocalypse, kidnapping, the simple act of fighting for your life – the characters and the plots are so familiar, they have lost their horror and become friends.
I’ve spoken to a lot of people who just don’t see the value in going back to a book you’ve already read. And that’s OK. For some people books are things to read once, perhaps even devour once, wipe your lips, and continue on to the next one. There is so much to read out there be it fiction, non-fiction, biography, essays, fantasy…it’s never ending. And more books are published every day. Why waste your time on something you’ve already experienced when there is an unlimited supply at your fingertips?
They have a point. I can look at The New York Times best seller list and salivate, wanting to run to my Kindle and download them all. Well, maybe not all. I don’t get the current trend of writers who aren’t writing anymore lending their names to a series that someone else is continuing. James Patterson is a multiple offender. But there are books on every subject out there that I am just waiting to read.
So why am I reading something that at this point, I’ve not only read before, but just finished watching its televised interpretation?
For those others out there who reread, I think you get it. You understand that you can learn new things with every read. You know that when you read a book again later in life, the book is different because you are different: the life experiences you bring to the text aren’t the same; your understanding and interpretation of certain words has changed; issues that mattered to you no longer have the same importance and others have come to the fore. The text is the same, but the reading isn’t.
And books you know so well provide comfort. If the world has become prosaic, I can go back to American Gods. If I’m feeling low I know that I can haul out the final book in Dan Simmon’s Hyperion series, The Rise of Endymion, and the tears come. If I need a laugh, I can experience David Sedaris’s miserable French lessons over and over again in Me Talk Pretty One Day. If I need to remember what it is to fall in love…well there are countless examples of that. We can funnel our emotions into these works and then allow those emotions to flow out of us, a controlled catharsis. There is something very very gratifying about giving yourself over to a book in that way.
So many people will rewatch movies or TV shows reciting lines along with the actors, listen to a certain song or a certain album on repeat singing along with every word. I say add rereading your favorite books to those practices. You’ll thank me.
I never re-read a book. There are too many books that I don’t have time to read without reading one I already read. Plus I hate knowing what’s going to happen next.
Oddly, sometimes knowing what is going to happen next lets me delve into deeper to the writing. Clearly, there are many readers out there who feel the way you do – and I get it. There is more out there than any one person can read in a lifetime…even discounting a lot of the garbage that gets published. But for me, I’ve always ended up rereading certain books since I was a kid. It’s always a struggle when I want to reread something and another new book is staring me in the face.
Well said, as usual. I re-read all the time for some of the same reasons, especially to experience stories I love anew, through the filter of an ever changing me. Madeline Engel’s “A Wrinkle in Time”, Toni Morrison’s “Sula,” “The Bluest Eye,” and “Song of Solomon.” Anything by Gloria Naylor. “Are you there God, it’s me, Margaret,” by Judy Blume. They are old friends for old farts like me who still enjoy the heft and weight of a paperback confection. Now I re-read some books that I’ve read recently because I’ve missed a detail or just so enjoyed the writing, character and plot development. And then there is the absolute joy of reading something that you initially read when you were too young to understand it, like “Le Petit Prince.” I knew it was beautiful and lyrical when I was 15, could fathom many of the concepts and the character’s loneliness when I read it in French in college, but it is only now, in middle age, that it’s true beauty and fire astounds me each of the 10 times a year I re-read it.
Love this post!!
There are some I’ve re-read for the fun and the ride like Harry Potter (or maybe because I devoured them too fast when I first got my hands on them). I also look forward to rereading my favorite authors like Margaret Atwood, Nick Hornby and Amy Tan. Amy Tan packs so much into her books that you get something new every time.
Haven’t reread or even read much lately due to time, but I’m a fan.