Re-reading Books: The Good & Bad


I’m going through a phase of re-reading a few of my favorite books/series. This seems to happen about every other year. Nothing on the new shelves at the library looks appealing, so I go back to my old loves. Either that or I just need the comfort of an old friend; something to keep me entertained, if not engrossed, while life rages around me.

I feel guilty when I re-read, though. Partly I feel like I’m wasting time. There’s so much out there! Why spend time on something I’ve already read when there are so many awesome books I’ll never get to? But there’s also the guilt that re-reading feels like cheating, somehow. Probably because in school we were made to feel guilty if we read the same book over and over. Our teachers wanted us to stretch, not become complacent.

Whatever it is, I decided to see if the guilt was justified. I made a pro and con list for re-reading books. Is the guilt justified?

The Good

You can explore the story more deeply. On the first pass, you’re sometimes turning pages quickly in your excitement to see what happens next. As a result, you miss some things. A second (or more) read allows you to pick up on all those little events and characters you overlooked. Or you’ve grown as a reader and those moments that went over your head when you were younger suddenly make sense.

It’s comfort food. Sometimes you just need comfort. You need a book where you know things turn out okay. Whenever you’re going through a tough time in life, it’s comforting to re-read an old book friend. You know it won’t let you down.

Nostalgia. Sometimes I re-read a book in a (mostly vain) effort to recapture a time or place in my life. Since I can remember where/when I read almost every book I’ve ever ingested, certain books can take me back to high school, college, great vacations, and other nostalgic places. Every now and then it’s fun to revisit the forgotten places of my youth.

If you’re a writer, it’s educational. The books you love can be great teachers. Problem is, you’re too engrossed in the story the first time to learn the lessons. On later reads you can slow down and see how the author made you laugh, cry, and turn those pages.

The Bad

Your TBR pile isn’t getting any smaller. All those unread books staring at you accusingly from your shelves? Yeah, they’re gonna stare harder when you choose an old favorite instead of one of the un-reads. Time is short so you may want to spend time discovering new books instead of re-reading the old ones.

You risk tarnishing the good memory of the book. Sometimes, for whatever reason, a book doesn’t hold up on the second pass. Maybe you’ve outgrown it, or you can now recognize the flaws. Or you saw the crappy movie based on the book and nothing can get that out of your head. If you re-read a favorite, you run the risk of it not being as good as you remember, leaving you wistful and sad for what was.

You aren’t taking risks in your reading. One of the biggest joys of reading is the joy of serendipity, the thrill of discovering something new. When you re-read books, you limit that possibility. Instead of taking risks and reading new genres or authors, you can become complacent in your choices.

The fun factor diminishes. That book that was super funny, suspenseful, or surprising on the first read will be less so on the second or third. The things that you enjoyed most will still be enjoyable, but since you know they’re coming, some of the pure fun is gone.

Given that the pros and cons are equal in number here, I must conclude that re-reading is harmless. Sure, it might not be the best use of time, but it is fun and there are things to be gained from it. So now I’m off to dispose of my guilt and re-read something else. The bottom line is that there’s no right or wrong way to read. Do what makes you happy at any point in time. Your TBR pile will be there when you’re done revisiting your old friends.

(Photo courtesy of MabelAmber)

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