The Power of Re-Reading

The book I'm re-reading right now.
The book I’m re-reading right now.

As a kid I re-read books fairly often, but eventually I grew to hate re-reading books. I have a pretty good memory so if I’ve read it in the last couple of years, I’ll only find surprises if it’s a really well written book. Besides, there are so many amazing books I haven’t read, and more being published every day.

I’ll admit, I have a more personal reason: some of the books I loved most as a child seemed awful when I re-read them. The characters were flat or I had simply changed too much to like them. For the first time, I noticed pacing issues and once in a while even realized the story wasn’t all that interesting.

If you re-read books regularly, sooner or later this will happen to you. Still, revisiting a book you loved five or ten years ago is often worth the risk. After all, you loved it for a reason, didn’t you?

This time around, you’ll  also be reading like a writer. If you’re not familiar with the term, “reading like a writer” means thinking critically about the work as you read, making special note of what works and what doesn’t. You can take notes or highlight as you go, but I find this detracts from the reading experience–and I hate highlighting books.

And here’s the thing: even if you read like a writer five years ago, your tastes have still matured. We learn something from every book we read, whether we know it or not. We also learn something from everything we write, and if you’re here, I’d bet you’ve written pretty frequently for at least a chunk of the last five years.

Here are some questions you can ask  while reading to analyze a book you love:

  • What about this book stands out most to me? Is it the same thing I originally loved the book for?
  • Do I feel the same way about the characters I did when I was young?
  • How does the writer tap into my emotions? You can even ask this one in every scene if you want to be meticulous.
  • Does the dialogue still seem authentic?

If you’ve waited long enough, there will be surprises. You probably don’t want to re-read a book you read last year unless it’s extremely complicated and there’s a sequel coming out soon, but if it’s been more than four or five years, you’ll probably have forgotten quite a bit about the story.

In the highest caliber books you’ll also notice extra layers in the world, the characters and the relationships they have with each other and their world.

Re-reading books you love allows you to fall in love with those worlds all over again. What could be better than that?

Remember: if you realize you hate the book, you don’t have to finish it. Life is far too short to read books you don’t like. Make a note of why you didn’t like it and move on, no hurt feelings.

I’m re-reading Sabriel by Garth Nix right now. Have you re-read anything lately? Are you planning to? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

4 thoughts on “The Power of Re-Reading

  • I read a lot of epic fantasy and sometimes there are years between books in a series so I reread them. I can reread The Lord of the Rings every few years but you’re are so right about how some books I loved aren’t so amazing now. It’s not only because I’m a writer but our tastes change as we mature.

  • dlgunn

    I think Lord of the Rings is the one series I actually feel guilty about not re-reading. I read the books in an awful hurry because my family insisted I read them before I saw the movies, so I skipped a lot of the poetry. Of course, now every time I think about re-reading them I end up just doing a marathon of all 3 extended edition movies…

    Maybe I’ll take LOTR with me to the UK. It does seem rather fitting

  • Takes me months or even years just to finish one book. Can’t imagine taking months or years to read it again. Unless of course it’s really good. I’ve read The Giver a couple of times, but one of those times was for school.

    • dlgunn

      Wow! I’m a fast reader so I can’t imagine what that’s like. Books only take me more than a month when they’re over 300 pages long or I’ve got a lot of paid work(or in the past schoolwork) to deal with.

      The Giver was a really amazing book, though, one I should probably put on my “To Be Re-read” list.

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