Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Heart those Books: The Joy of Re-re-reading

By: Darby Karchut

In December 2015, I came across an article in the Wall Street Journal by Christopher B. Nelson about the joys of re-reading favorite books. It was entitled Hello, Old Friend, Time to Read You Again. Here’s my favorite selection from it:

"…So too, the most familiar books reveal more about themselves when we attend to them anew. And our growing experience allows us to approach our favorites from different angles. In a sense, rereading the same book produces new insights because the reader is a different person. Indeed, a good book is very much like a mirror: The glass is the same year after year, but the reflection in it changes over time.

Don’t pay any attention if your conscience tries to make you feel guilty for taking the time to reread a favorite book this winter. It is more fruitful and satisfying to read one good book well than a thousand poorly. And the best books cannot be read well without rereading."


What a relief to know my indulgent habit is shared by other, and better yet, it is actually good for me. Kind of like red wine and dark chocolate. I no longer had to carry around the guilt that I should be plowing through new books, and not waste my time reading stuff I’ve already read. I no longer had to bleat a feeble excuse when friends lambasted me about reading anew an old favorite.

“C’mon, Darby. Sheesh, you’ve read that book already. Why would you want to read it again? You know the plot. You know the ending. You know the characters. There is nothing new to be learned.”

And new is always better than old. Right? Amirite?

Um…no.

Other art forms are enjoyed multiple times—paintings and music and dance. We listen to songs more than once. We gaze at paintings and sculpture more than once. Heck, we watch movies more than once.

(What gal saw The Return of the King nine times in a row at the theater and has two thumbs? Yup.)

So, why not books? Why can’t they get do-overs?

I know folks have written before about the value of re-reading, but this article was a great reminder. Sure, most of the books I read are in the one-and-done camp. But, there’s a select few I re-visit time and time again, usually for one of two reasons:

One: It is an author who inspires my own writing. And when I’m stuck on my own writing, I re-read how they solved the problem. I call this Karchut University. It’s how I learned to write. It’s how I’m still learning how to write.  

Two: I call those re-reads my comfort books. Like a literary version of comfort food. Meatloaf novels, you might say. The books that make me feel all kinds of happy or heroic. Without even peeking at my shelves, I can list them right off the bat:

The Lord of the Rings (once a year since I was eleven.) They are why I write mostly fantasy.
The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander. These books are why I write mostly middle grade.
The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne.
The Mitford series by Jan Karon.  
The Longmire Mysteries by Craig Johnson.
The Temeraire series by Naomi Novik
The Harry Potter series by What’s-Her-Name. (Just kidding).

In closing, I must quote from Peter S. Beagle’s preface to The Tolkien Reader, one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s more obscure works. In the preface entitled “Tolkien’s Magic Ring,” Beagle expresses what many of us feel about re-reading their favorite book:

“I have read the complete work five or six times (not counting browsing, for which this essay is, in part, an excuse), and each time, my pleasure in the texture of it deepens. It will bear the mind’s handling, and it is a book that acquires an individual patina in each mind that takes it up, like a much-caressed pocket stone or piece of wood. At times, always knowing that I didn’t write it, I feel that I did.”

Yes. That. Right there.

Okay, time for confession: I’m curious to hear what books you re-read, and how many times. Don’t be shy. ‘Fess up. An empty comment box is a sad and pitiful thing.



14 comments:

  1. Darby, I thought it was weird to tell people I reread books. As though I was unfaithful to the new books on the market. I love this, and now can admit, I often reread my favorite books. Don't feel pitiful if people blog by without comments. Your blog has been up since 8 a.m. and there's already been 111 page views.Great post.

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    1. It's freeing be able to admit this, eh? And thank you for letting me know about the views. :-)

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  2. I reread: Kelley Armstrong, Ted Dekker, Robert Liparulo, Steven James, octavia Butler, Octavia Butler and octavia Butler and Darby Karchut, Patricia Briggs and I will be doing a reread of Richelle Mead soonish

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    1. I like so many of these authors, Starr!
      Good choice all the way around!

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  3. Oh, I have several favorites that I re-read. Sometimes you just want to curl up with an old friend!
    Like you, I put The Lord of the Rings and The Mitford series on my list as well as these: Plainsong by Kent Haruf, Lake News by Barbara Delinsky, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, Montana Sky by Nora Roberts, and The Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells. Yes, they are all over the place in terms of genre!

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    1. Great choices! I have to pick up the latest Mitford book. Can't wait!

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  4. It's funny, I used to let myself reread The Lord of the Rings. And other treasured books. Then I became so overwhelmed by all the NEW books to read that it's been years since I've allowed myself the pleasure of spending time with an old friend. Thanks for this reminder! (And I love all the authors and titles suggested here.)

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    1. The pressure to read all the new books is real, that's for sure, Barbara! I'm still seeking the right balance...

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  5. Ok, I admit to re-reading several of Molly Harper's books. How To Seduce A Naked Werewolf, How To Flirt With a Nake Werewolf, etc. Love her sass and humor.

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    1. Oooh, I may have to try that series! And congrats on all your successes!

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  6. I've read Rebecca too many times to count. I've read Mirror Image, Hawk O'toole's Hostage, and Sunset Dawn and Sunset Embrace by Sandra Brown over and over again. I've read Lawrence Sanders, The First Deadly Sin and Third Deadly Sin over and over again. And I confess, I've reread my own books because I miss the characters ;)

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    1. So glad to hear you're "one of us", Donnell. I will now admit I re-read a few of my books just for fun, too. For the exact reason: missing the characters.

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  7. I'm a re-reader, too. Classics I read in school now say so much more to me. I guess because I've lived long enough to recognize the layers to the characters and the depth of the situations. Enjoyed your article.

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    1. Thanks, Ann. I know what you mean about classics taking on new meaning when we re-read them later in life.

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