Why you should reread books

Two books I reread in 2016
Two books I reread in 2016

As a kid I re-read books fairly often, but eventually I grew to hate rereading. I have a pretty good memory so if I’ve read it in the last couple of years, I’ll remember large chunks of it word for word, which makes all but the best books tedious. Besides, there are so many amazing books I haven’t read, and more being published every day. Why re-read when I can always find something new?

Of course, it wasn’t entirely about time. Part of it was about the books themselves. Some of the books I loved most as a child seemed awful when I reread them. The characters were flat or I had simply changed too much to like them. There were pacing flaws younger me hadn’t noticed. And the worlds that had been exciting to me as a kid often felt bland and stereotypical after exploring the fantasy genre more deeply.

If you reread 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, right?

If you choose the right books, the books that left the deepest impression on you the first time around, you will often find yourself falling even more deeply in love with them. You’ll notice little details that didn’t stick the first time. You may even learn big lessons you didn’t pick up the first time, especially if you were like me and started reading adult books before your tenth birthday.

This is especially important for writers.  As you develop your writing skills, you also develop the ability to read like a writer. You pay more attention to the specific techniques and scenes that work–and the ones that don’t. You analyze the book, learning how you can make yours at least as powerful. Reading like a writer is one of the best ways for you to learn more about the craft, and it’s much easier to do when you’ve already read a book and you’re not in so much of a rush to reach the end.

How to make time for rereading

At this point you’re probably staring guiltily at all the books on your To Be Read list, perhaps even an entire row of your bookshelf that hasn’t been read. You know it’s important to keep reading new books, that reading for fun can be a great self care strategy, and that books can teach you all manner of things. You may even have scheduled specific time for reading, or devoted your commute to reading if you take transit. It’s fun and sometimes enlightening, but it’s already taking up a significant chunk of your day, and now you’re supposed to reread books too?

You don’t have to reread a lot to reap the rewards. You don’t even have to schedule separate reading time for it. Even rereading one or two books a year can open your mind, changing the way you see books and the world. Choosing the right books to reread matters more than rereading a large number of  books. After all, your goal here isn’t just to enjoy yourself, it’s to learn something–whether that’s about the book, about writing in general, or about yourself.

So how do you choose the right books?

Any book worth rereading is one that left a deep impression on you the first time you read it, one that taught you something deep about life or writing or both. It’s a book you liked enough to still remember all the characters and the overall story arch, even if you don’t remember many details. It can also be a book with powerful themes you didn’t fully understand or feel comfortable with the first time you read it.

I’ve also frequently chosen to reread a specific book because it’s been turned into a series. This is why I reread Inkheart last year, which is now the first book in a fantastic trilogy. It’s also part of why I reread the Abhorsen trilogy by Garth Nix, which is now The Old Kingdom Series. Being able to dive back into these worlds and then explore them even further has been wonderful fun, and I’ve learned a lot from the process too.

Right now I’m only reading new books, but at some point in the near future I’ll be diving into A Dance With Dragons, not because I believe the next book will ever actually come out but because I need to straighten out some of the differences between the books and the show in my head. All those X names in A Dance With Dragons confused me enormously. I also need to reread Lord of the Rings, as I was rather young when I read it the first time. I suspect I will learn a lot from both of these rereads, and I’m excited to see how they’ll help my writing grow.

Do you reread books? What would you like to reread next? Let me know in the comments section below!

2 thoughts on “Why you should reread books

  • This is so true! I fell into that trap of being afraid to read while I was writing, in case I accidentally copied something. This is a silly fear, I’m finding. I started reading again and my writing has improved so much. It’s totally accurate that you begin to read like a writer. I found myself being influenced by good writing practices and wincing at the bad ones. Read hones my craft. Spot on!

    • dlgunn

      It seems a lot of writers have this fear, and to some extent it is based in reality, which is why I always try to be reading something dramatically different from my current project.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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