Have you ever found yourself overthinking whether or not you should re-read a book? Is it even a good use of time when you could be reading something new?
And suddenly, it’s like you’re in a Shakespeare play: To re-read, or not to re-read, that is the question.
I went through a stretch of time where I was always re-reading a Harry Potter novel. Always. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) While I’ve grown since then, I am still a shameless supporter of re-reading for the right reasons.
There is a balance when it comes to re-reading, and it shouldn’t be overdone, but it is valuable. The more I’ve defended my re-reading tastes, the more I’ve reflected on its purpose and why it matters.
I’ve found that I most often re-read for enjoyment, knowledge, or wisdom. Each is valid and supports not only why returning to books is important, but also why the practice is far from being a time-waster.
1. Re-Reading for Enjoyment
When I re-read for enjoyment, I go in wanting to get swept away in a favorite story. Just like any pleasure, this type of re-reading should be done in moderation (after all, there are plenty of wonderful, new books to explore), but it’s a great way to treat yourself and unwind without a screen. Besides, there’s little that’s more comforting than sitting down with a treasured story.
People never seem to understand how I could enjoy reading a book when I already know the ending. But when I’m re-reading for enjoyment, it’s not because I desperately want to know how everything turns out.
No, it’s about falling into a beloved world with familiar characters and scenes that I love. I’m not on the edge of my seat, waiting to see how Elizabeth Bennet reacts to visiting Pemberley, I’m wanting to experience the moment again and savor it.
Re-reading for enjoyment is about the experience, not the mystery of the events. No one bats an eye when somebody wants to hear the same song again because they love the melody, and it’s the same motivation for re-visiting a book.
To me, wanting to go through a book again for the experience marks it as a great story because it doesn’t rely on mere suspense. Instead, its merit is crafted on something deeper.
And C.S. Lewis says the same thing, so that has to count for something, right?
For I wanted not the momentary suspense but that whole world to which it belonged…C.S. Lewis, On Stories
2. Re-Reading for Knowledge
Do you remember every detail the first time you read something?
Yeah, me neither. However, this is where re-reading to brush up on the facts can be so helpful– it allows you to absorb information you missed before.
You probably experienced this first hand when you frantically skimmed the pages of your textbooks, certain that you’ve forgotten something that will appear on tomorrow’s test.
Being a writer, it goes so much deeper than the written facts. Going back through a book allows me to observe the craft in action, giving insight to writing dialogue, introducing characters, plot structures, or using foreshadowing. The 3 Act Structure would be rather abstract if I wasn’t able to hold it beside my favorite novels, knowing how the story fits together, and be able to pinpoint where the inciting incident, midpoint, and disaster all lie.
Or, you know, paging through The Way of Kings to memorize Rock’s full Horneater name also counts as re-reading for knowledge.
Not that I did this. *cough*
3. Re-Reading for Wisdom
Not going to lie, this is my personal favorite reason for re-reading. There are few things I love more than coming back to a book with a changed perspective and finding insight I’d missed before.
The best books– the ones most worth re-reading– are the ones that you can return to and find even deeper ideas nestled in their pages. Because, the truth is, people change and grow, so what we notice will shift as well.
I’ve heard it said that a classic is simply a book you can re-read and gain something new each time– regardless of whether it was covered in your high-school English class or not.
This is why stories like Hamlet and The Scarlet Letter are considered timeless. They reward us with new insight each time we pick them up, partly because we’ve changed enough to understand these lessons.
And for the record, there are plenty of newer books I would personally place in this category as well.
Clearly one must read every good book at least once every ten years.C.S. Lewis
So, there are the 3 reasons I think re-reading books is valuable. While it’s worthwhile to devour something new, it’s incredibly satisfying to sit down with a cup of tea and a beloved, familiar book.
Are there other reasons you think I should have added? What books do you enjoy re-reading and why? I’d love to hear from you.