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.