Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Joys of Re-Reading: What Do you Re-read and why?

My 8yo big reader son is constantly re-reading books. Which, for completely irrational reasons, sometimes annoys me.

I guess I'm jealous. At, er, significantly greater than 8yo, I WISH I had all the time he has to read -- rather than cooking dinner, cleaning, doing groceries, working (oh, yea, WORKING), I'd rather be reading too. There are so many wonderful books in the world, not to mention on my nightstand/to be read pile, I can't imagine ever having enough time to read them all. And so, it gets me a little nuts to see my son re-reading, say, Harry Potter or Percy Jackson (all of them, any of them...) for the fourth, fifth or sixth time while there are a pile of perfectly good and exciting looking new novels from the library getting dangerously close to their due date.

But of course, I'm completely in the wrong. I know that. Books aren't things to consume, or check off on a list (no matter how close their due date), they are experiences to enjoy, and enjoy and enjoy again.

I re-read favorites all the time when I was younger -- Little Women, the Nancy Drew books... even into my adulthood I re-read Jane Austen and J.R.R. Tolkein whenever I need a spiritual or mental pick me up. Old books are like old friends, they usually know where you're hurting and how to help.

So yesterday I asked my son why he likes so much to re-read books. Of course, he had just gotten out Grace Lin's Year of the Dog and Year of the Rat out of the library for the THIRD time and was so engrossed in his reading that I had to ask the question a number of times, raising the decibels with each asking until he finally responded.

But when he did, this was his answer. "Usually I don't read something 'till I've forgotten what happens. And then it's like reading it for the first time."

I'm not sure whether to believe him, whether he really forgets the plot (is that possible?) or just enjoys revisiting a familiar plot, in the same way a child enjoys revisiting a familiar film, song, or even, face...

What are your favorite books to re-read and why?


  1. Oh my my my. I am currently rereading Jane Austen, or gearing up to do so. I've never read her juvenilia so I am starting there. I love revisiting Austen's world and last year I read a collection of essays that celebrated her work. Plus, I haven't seen most of the BBC productions of her works so I thought it would be fun to read the texts and films.

    I am also rereading Anne of Avonlea. I never read all of the Anne of Green Gables books so I am curious to see why I stopped reading them and if I will enjoy the ones I remember enjoying the first time. So far the answer is yes on the enjoyment and still clueless about why I stopped.

    And my friend, who has never read Harry Potter has begun with the first book and I said I would join her in that. I typically reread the book before I see the movie and I have yet to reread the seventh book which means I'll work my way through 1-6 and hopefully hit 7 in time for the last movie.

    As if that were not enough, I belong to a book group that has picked a book I've previously read and my mother and I are reading a book I read in ARC form. (Gone With the Wind and The Twelve Steps of Compassion, respectively.)

    My current reading choices seem to be all about rereading. But I do have a few "first reads" for me. One is a book about one woman's experience with her mother's Alzheimer's and how she used writing and poetry through her caretaking experience. I also am waiting for the arrival of some book about women's writing their bodies or some such. I'm sure you've heard of it. I can't wait to read it myself!

    Oh . . . and I have another reread on my library pile, A Voice of Her Own which I thought would be a lovely compliment to Stories of Illness. Maybe not. We'll see.

    I think that's about all I'm reading but I'm not including my morning quiet time reading. (Hint: Sharon Salzberg and Sarah Ban Breathnach--both first time reads!)

  2. I have re-read Diana Gabaldon's Outlander about a gazillion times. Like you said -- old books can, indeed, be like old friends. And there is nothing like an old friend when you need your spirit rejuvenated or your soul refreshed. Or when you simply need a respite from the real world. I've also been re-reading Mary Steward novels I loved as a child...thanks to someone (ahem!) I know who was one of those old friends who knew just the right old book to gift to me. :)

  3. Harry Potter. Countless, countless times.

    Also a lot of Enid Blyton (Hollow Tree House, Secret Island, St Clares series).

    And there's not a single trade collection (comics!) I own that I haven't re-read, I don't think.

  4. Great responses! I too LOVED Enid Blyton, and both I and 8yo have read and re-read Harry Potter until they are now frayed and falling apart. Poor 6yo will have to hold some of them together with tape when she's up for them...

    Mary Stewart - but of course! Haven't read the Outlander series yet...

    Satia, LOVE all your answers - I too as you know love to revisit Austen's world of manners. There's something about it that makes me feel secure, like the world is a good and true place. Soemhow the same feeling I get from LOTR (which are so NOT books about manners and yet also about good prevailing, honor, friendship, loyalty, so many of the same values...)

    Maybe that's why we re-read (or I do anyway), to reassure ourselves the world is a good and decent place when things otherwise feel frightening and out of control? Hm... one theory anyway...

  5. Bruno Bettelheim suggests that the reason children want to hear a story repeatedly is because they need something from the story--some cathartic release offered, some psychological truth, etc. Albeit, he is very Freudian in his understanding of fairy tales but I think sometimes we reread for the opportunity to also explore an archetype that resonates with our own or is a manifestation of our shadow self.

    I reread Lord of the Rings at least once a decade (after rereading it annually through most of my late adolescence. Just today I received an ebay win of a long out of print LotR inspired board game. It is like having a piece of my childhood back.

    That may also be a reason for rereading, to revisit who we were the first time we read and see how we have changed over time.

  6. My mother-in-law used to say life was too short to re-read books because there were just too many great ones! I personally do not re-read them, although as I get older I do take out cherished books long forgotten. Interestingly, however, I do read kids' books over again. Strange?

    Anyway, my last blog was about books I recommend (as an educator for gifted and talented kids) that I recommend for avid 4th and 5th grade readers. You may want to take a look at it. Let me know if he's read any of the suggested readings.

    In the meantime, great post!

    All the best,
    Meryl Jaffe, PhD

  7. Speaking of frayed HPs.. This is what my Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire looks like, after my many, many re-visits:

    That's Dumbledore as drawn by my sister, on the back.

  8. Hah! Claire I just looked at that hand drawn cover, and am laughing my head off. Hilarious!!!

    Meryl - thanks for the link to your site - lovely stuff! My problem with my big reader is that he's intellectually capable of reading much of this stuff, but often not emotionally ready for the heavier content - I tried to stop him at HP #3, but he insisted on reading #4 and was pretty devastated at, well, Cedric Diggory's you-know-what. Now He's read up to #5 but I'm having him hold of on #6 and 7 lest he find out about Dumbledore's you-know-what and totally get devastated...

    I say this to say that some of the books for 4th and 5th graders there on teh site are WONDERFUL but I worry that my big reader (young for his grade) 3rd grader just won't be ready emotionally for them. it's a hard balancing act finding the right content for a young avid reader! (so perhaps yet another reason he re-reads, Satia!)

  9. I've gone back and reread a few cherished books that I remember not really understanding as a child... A Wrinkle in Time was one of those books, the political implications of which I definitely didn't catch as an 11yo. Having gone back and revisited it, I definitely felt a closer affinity to Madeleine L'Engle's work now, but I have yet to reread any of the other books in the series.

    It's funny-- I was a very fast reader as a child. Even now, I sometimes have difficulty holding myself back from just plowing through something. I'm not sure where the habit came from, but I'd like to know if your son takes the time to slowly savour each book. I know there are precious few texts that I've read slowly that I can remember in my childhood, and to be honest I think a few good books were lost in the sea of Sweet Valley High/Babysitter's Club novels that I burned through when I was his age.

    Though one book that I'd -like- to reread has always escaped me, because I can't remember the title nor the author's name. I think the protagonist's name was Alice (?) and the plot involved a 12yo girl whose mother had recently died... All I remember is a bra-shopping experience with dad in a major department store, and boys nicknaming girls with the names of states to assess their breast size (she came out with Colorado). I suspect Judy Blume. Anyone else have thoughts?

  10. Rachel, Are you thinking of The Agony of Alice? I've never read it but I used to work in a bookstore and I'm not too shabby when it comes to finding books for readers. The description sounds like this might be the book you are recalling. Of course, if this is not the book then it wouldn't be the first time I was mistaken in what I thought was the perfect find.

  11. Oh, I love it that folks are helping each other remember books on the blog - how cool is that? Thanks Satia! Yes, Rachel, in answer to your question, my son is a bit of a speed reader so maybe he is glossing over finer plot points then revisiting them - hard to tell. He's also one of those kids who can't pull themselves away from a story once he's engrossed (I was like that) - he actually hides from us so we won't bother him while he's reading to do such mundane things like, oh, eat, go to sleep, go to school.... !

  12. I was definitely like your son, Sayantani. My mom would take my brother and me to the library every Saturday morning, and she basically had three or four "free" days after that-- our attention would be completely engrossed. She tells stories about keeping us from sneaking books into the car on Sunday morning so we wouldn't read through church.

    Satia: YES! You're absolutely right. I remember the characters now. I will keep my eyes open for these books when I go to the public library! :)

  13. hah! I too Rachel find myself amazed that I have to say "stop reading!" or "put down that book NOW!" when I want him to eat dinner/get ready. For a lifelong reader (I did that flashlight under the bedclothes thing for YEARS) and writer, it's almost sacriligious to me to have to find myself saying such atrocities! :)

  14. Oh my goodness, I have just discovered I have so many thoughts on this I may have to do my own post about repetitive reading! Wow, thanks for getting me thinking!
    My favorite books to re-read are generally childhood favorites because they sooth and comfort me (stuff by Lloyd Alexander, Jane Yolen, and the like mostly, but also "The Last Unicorn" and "The Neverending Story") but also because there is a lot in those books you can only see re-visiting with an adult perspective. I also like to re-read poetry- actually I don't know how to digest a collection of poems fully any other way. And Jane Austen, for some reason. I honestly don't why I keep going back to "Emma", I just do.

  15. Great observations mumsyjr - about going back with adult (or older) eyes to books you read as a child/younger adult. And I too go back and back to Emma - and P&P of course.
    And poetry goes without saying. I think poetry is ONLY meant to be read and read again, no? I can't imagine a poem that is read only once - tragedy! :)

  16. I blogged about rereading a couple weeks ago myself LOL

    I usually do forget the plot. Oh, not the major events, but all the little details that make reading fun. I reread David Eddings' book almost yearly. I reread The Black Jewels series by Anne Bishop yearly too. Sometimes more often.

  17. As a child my personal tradition was to reread the Little House series over winter break in bed with a cup of hot cocoa - wearing a long nightgown to get in character.

    I don't reread anymore, partially because I agree with the feeling of 'so many books, so little time' and also because that magic of the first read disappears.

    I saw your comment on Malinda Lo's blog and I had to come over and say hello!

  18. thanks for saying hi sophia! :) I like the long nightgown little house tradition - I was personally always fascinated by all that canning and storing of food in the attic for the winter (although I'm really glad I don't have to do all that!)

  19. I don't usually re-read as there's so many new books I want to explore. However, when I was young my favorite read was Alice in Wonderland =)

    Sandie lee

  20. A great one -- also great for reading aloud! Thanks for visiting Sandi Lee