The Importance of Re-reading

“It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.”
C.S. Lewis

“I can’t imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once.”
C.S. Lewis

I love the library. I love that there are places filled with books that are free for the taking. I love browsing shelves, discovering books and authors that I might never have tried had I had to pay for the book.

“But Josh,” says Johnny Everyman, “you work at a bookstore. Your job depends on people buying books, not getting them for free from the library.”

Hear me. Libraries are like drug dealers giving true book lovers the first hit for free. Addicts like me will come back, money in hand, ready to pay what it takes for the next high.

And here’s the thing. When I read a free book from the library, if I really love the book, I will want to own the book. I will put that book on my wish list until I have the money to go out and buy it. I don’t just want to read it once. I want to re-read it, again and again.

Sure, reading a book for the first time is exciting. You don’t know what is going to happen. Your impressions of the characters are visceral, the plot twists leave your mind reeling, the mystery of whodunnit keeps you up much too late. But what if the book isn’t good? The excitement is replaced by the feeling of being cheated, of having your time wasted.

With a good book that you are re-reading, sure you know the characters, but now they are old friends that have a sweetness all their own. Sure, you know the plot and you know how the book is going to end, but it is the journey of getting to the end that is the fun part. Besides, you are going to notice things with each reading that you will have missed the first, second, and third times. You will discover aspects of the characters that you somehow missed, favorite scenes will take on new life with each reading. And best of all, you don’t have to worry that the book is going to be a waste of your time, because it has already passed the test.

DSC00965For me, re-reading is the best part of any book experience. There are so many books that I have re-read over the years, Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien, 1984 by George Orwell, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee to name a few. All of these (and more) are great books and deserve another trip through.

I believe that C.S. Lewis had something with his rule about reading an old favorite between each new book, if for no other reason than to refresh your mental palette and remind yourself what good reading tastes like.

What books do you re-read regularly?

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7 responses to “The Importance of Re-reading

  1. “Christy”, by Catherine Marshall. I wouldn’t ever want to meet the real people in the story. I have their images fully fleshed out in my mind…and I would not want to be disappointed to discover they were different than I imagined.

  2. Yes I do enjoy re-reading & I love the library for the same reasons you give. It’s like brain candy. I love reading & re-reading series too. As you said the characters become like friends & as the series progresses you begin to think & anticipate what will happen. But good authors keep characters growing & changing (like real people) and new plot twists still surprise. You know the funny thing to me about your posting today is that it reminds me of how as a Ss kid I loved the fact that I could count on retreading & re-learning the great Hero’s of the Bible every 3 years. And still 50 years later I find new things in the story of Daniel (and others). Agree, CS Lewis was right re re-reading. Glad you blogged on it today.

  3. My most frequently reread book is Watership Down. I also fairly regularly reread the Little House books, the Anne of Green Gables books, A Wrinkle in Time and two of its sequels, Bill Bryson’s books, my favorite writing books, Tolkien’s books, Hemingway’s books and short stories, my favorite poets, and, of course, my favorite books of the Bible. I’m probably more likely to be rereading than reading a new book.

  4. Pingback: Between Books | Josh Mosey | Writer·

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