Re-Reading: Waste of Time or Needed Rest?

As a kid, I re-read a lot. Sure, I always devoured new books, too, but there were books I read over and over. When you’re a kid, you have that luxury of time, so you can read new books and old books at will.

As I got older, through high school and college and grad school, I stopped re-reading. I had too many new books to read for school, and I had a job as well. No time for dipping back into a book I had loved.

That set the trend for my adulthood—I rarely re-read. I went on a classics binge and read all the “classics” I hadn’t read in school. Lately, I’ve been reading all the Newbery Award winners (I think I have 6 left.) But re-reading? I had no time for that—especially after my daughter came along.

Yet here I am, three weeks into re-reading books I loved when I was younger. It started because I fell into a period where I couldn’t get to the library, yet had finished all the books I had gotten out. I am a person who HAS to have something to read, so I got a book off my bookshelf and started reading. I have read Jean M. Auel’s Shelters of Stone, Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, Antonia Barber’s The Ghosts, and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House In The Big Woods and Little House On The Prairie.

Part of me thinks this is a waste of my time. With so many books out there, why re-read something? But I am finding this to be restful. My brain is buzzing all day long. With a familiar book, I can settle into the story and enjoy the writing, but not have to put all my brain into concentrating. Perhaps it is my version of zoning out in front of the TV.

I find that I see things in the books I did not when I read them years ago, which keeps a freshness to them. And none have been in my current WIP’s genre, so it is not causing creative conflict in my brain. Yet they are stories, and that helps keep my mind primed for writing even as it lets me sit back and breathe.

I will return to reading new books, probably very soon, but I think this respite has been good for me. Like comfort food for my brain. And it has made me remember what it was that I loved about reading, and about the stories I read as a child. Reconnecting with that passion as a reader will feed into my writing—because I want to write stories that people will want to re-read again and again.

How about you? Are you a re-reader? Or is once enough for you?

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  1. I’m reading at the moment Jo Walton’s What Makes This Book So Great, a collection of her essays from, which are all analyses and discussions of books she re-reads repeatedly. She would likely argue that each time you re-read a book, it’s not the same book, because you aren’t the same person. I’ve gone back to *Huckleberry Finn, Crime & Punishment, Moby Dick,* Dumas, and Dickens—often things pushed on me in high school I now can read with appreciation rather than frustration.
    And I periodically re-read Bulgakov’s *The Master and Margarita,* Walter M. Miller’s *A Canticle for Leibowitz*, and everything by Roger Zelazny. The Zelazny in particular is pure comfort food for the strung-out brain. We all need/have such works, I think. So I am firmly in the “there is no waste of time here” camp.

    • Good to hear, Greg! And I agree that we never read the same book twice, because we are different each time. I did the same thing with classics I read in high school and hated. Funny how much better they were when I was older! 🙂

  2. I’m still a re-reader. I always find something new when I re-read a favorite book. Right now, I’m re-reading several of Ruth Rendell’s books because I love the way she creates suspense and I hope to learn from her … and, of course, for the pure pleasure of it.

  3. I wish I had time to reread books! I have so many fellow authors’ novels to read and support, in addition to my own recreational selections. Nice post! It does make sense that you notice things later that you didn’t before.

    • I know! I felt guilty re-reading when there’s so much out there! But sometimes it’s nice. Maybe when you get to my age, you’ll have some time to re-read. 🙂

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