Thursday, June 17, 2010

The definition of insanity

by Lauren

Reading Miriam's post the other day, I was totally delighted by all the great/bad books.  I'm not sure I can make a top five list, because I'm incredibly contrary and like to overthink lists before I commit to them, but Moby Dick, Jane Eyre, and the collected works of Charles Dickens (sorry, Jim!) and John Steinbeck (sorry, Rachel!) would at least be in my top 25.

The thing that struck me most, though, was several of you mentioned reading these books multiple times.  I particularly loved that Kerry went back to a book she hated the first time, which I can't even imagine. I just can't do it, myself.  With very few exceptions (the odd children's book I don't remember well; Gatsby once to try to understand a reference to it that still makes no sense), the only books I re-read are manuscripts I'm editing.  Even when I love the books, I find re-reading has none of the enjoyment for me that reading for the first time does.  I find it near impossible to focus, knowing what's coming next.  (It's probably for the best that I never became a copyeditor, for that and other reasons.)

The idea doesn't bother me: On the one hand, there are so many books to read, it seems a waste to read one of them multiple times.  On the other hand, you're never going to read them all anyway, so what's the harm?  I just can't actually do it in practice.

Anyone else? Re-readers, tell me, why? Do you easily read every word, have no objection to skimming, or struggle with the impulse? And is there a certain kind of book you find re-readable when others aren't? A thriller doesn't sound like much fun the second time. Enlighten me below!


  1. There are only a handful of fiction books I reread. I have to admit, Twilight is on that list. *gasp*, But I did skip much of it the second time around. However, I just finished rereading Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman. It was as amazing the second time as it was the first. I think the personality of the character got me in that one. I did the same with The Hunger Games recently. (I have to reread whenever a new part of the series comes out and Mockingjay will be out this summer.) Now, I knew all the twists and turns in The Hunger Games, so I thought for sure this one would be tough as a reread. No way! It totally rocked. Collins is such an amazing writer that I even reread every word. No skipping this time.

    Usually if I find myself thinking about the book, promoting the book to friends or raving about it in any way, it's a reread. If I like it the second time around, then it's a purchase for my shelves. Otherwise, I'm a true library girl.

  2. I do read again- and pretty thoroughly too.

    Mostly, I do this with books that feel like old friends. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy would be the primary example of this.

    It never, ever gets old- and I laugh every time no matter how many times I read something like, "Space is big."

  3. The only books I have been able to re-read thoroughly and enjoy each time are the Harry Potter novels. Nothing else holds my interest like they do.

  4. There are two flavors of book that I reread.

    1) Books that I read when I was younger and less wisdomous, and would suck if I read them for the first time now, but they are a comfort to me and I don't have to engage with them except to remember fondly. It's comfort reading. Much less expensive--and healthier--than chocolate. I would list examples except that I don't want to insult authors by calling their books sucky comfort reading, when they've done so much for me over the years.

    B) Books that are just beautifully written, and inspire me to write. The Last Unicorn, by Peter Beagle, is one of these, for example. The prose in that book is just gorgeous, and it's impossible for me to read it without being so driven to write myself that I nearly shake to pieces. I don't reread these books often, for fear they might lose some of their efficacy, but when I start to feel really down on myself or I feel my drive slipping, I return to these books for help.

  5. There are very few books that I *don't* re-read. Sometimes, I'll finish a book I really liked, turn right around and start it over again. I love it when authors drop little crumbs that you only find when you're re-reading the story. (It's harder than it sounds.)

    Yes, sometimes I skim over scenes I didn't like (I'm looking at you, "The Stand", "Watchers" and "Tinker".)

    Mostly, I just enjoy the story like favorite blue jeans or a favorite meal.

  6. As Meagan said above, I re-read for different reasons.

    The first, as with her, is "old friend," often books from when I was a young adult. Books that changed the way I saw the world, or that spoke to me in a particular way.

    The second, as in The Scarlett Letter, are books I read because I "had" to, mostly for school. As I got older, I suspected that I didn't like them because I was too young to "get" them, so I re-read them to see. And for the most part, I did enjoy them more when reading from an older and wiser age.

    The final reason I re-read a book is because I loved something about it - usual a character that I simply didn't want to let go of. I wanted to revisit that person, that world, that life, and so I did, sometimes multiple times.

    My mother never understood the urge to re-read, either. All I can say is that I almost always get something new out of the book when I re-read, because I bring something new to it - new experience, new knowledge.

    With a 7-month-old, I barely can find time to read, let alone re-read (unless you count Brown Bear, Brown Bear for the zillionth time), but my bookshelves are still stocked with books waiting for me to return to them!

  7. God, where do I start? All of Edgar Rice Burroughs, the "Galactic Patrol" series by E.E. Smith, anything and everything by Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, Fritz Leiber jr, Jack Williamson---gotta stop--I'm getting younger just thinking of all the others...

  8. Inspired by the Love it/Hate it post, I'm going to have to re-read Catcher in the Rye. I read it in high school and absolutely loved it. Now, having heard all the haters' opinions, I'm wondering if I'll still enjoy it. I am years, years, and years away from high school. Maybe Holden will annoy the heck out of me now.

    And as for books that I do re-read -- not many by choice. But my kids have me repeating loads of children's books. And no matter how many times I read The Giving Tree, I can't get through it without crying!

  9. Whenever I depressed or tired of reading disappointing books, I'll pull out one of my favorites. Funny thing, I forget my worries and enjoy a book for the sheer pleasure. It's guaranteed. My re-reading favorites are not classics, but the themes are. I love Candace Camp’s (w/a Lisa Gregory) THE RAINBOW SEASON and Anne Stuart's LORD OF DANGER.

  10. I do like to re-read. I tend to forget a lot of things that happen, despite me thinking that I remember, so it's a surprising read. What I like to do is if I love a book, I keep it, and I wait a while before reading it again.

    There's this one book in my bookshelf I received in 4th Grade. It's not too terribly easy of a read, so I can still enjoy it today. It's possibly the sweetest book I've ever read, and I'll reread it a million times to make me feel better inside. (In fact, I might just do so right now.)

    As for re-reading thrillers? You're probably right about that, but I can't let a good book go. Especially when I need inspiration, I'll pull out a book I know.

  11. Definitely not a re-reader! Too many good books that are on my shelves that I have yet to read! The only challenge is time...

  12. I find I often re-read books by authors outside the US, such as Siobhan Dowd, "Bog Child", and Neil Gaiman, "The Graveyard Book" because I love the dialog and the unusual words and phrases that are not used in the US. New and unique vocabulary just thrills me.

  13. The Vorkosigan books by Lois McMaster Bujold (actually more of a re-listen, since I usually do my annual reread with the audiobooks), and the Amelia Peabody books by Elizabeth Peters. Lots and lots and lots of romances. Travel writing. And a few others.

    I mostly reread books with characters who are Real People [tm]. And I do it because if I don't I start missing them, just like real friends.

  14. I like re-reading especially when I love the book. I only re-read the best part and skip the rest. Johanna Lindsey is one of the authors I re-read.

  15. I didn't use to reread books, but started doing this in Japan where it was often difficult (and always expensive) to find books in English. Almost always, I enjoyed books more the second time, but I found that I had to wait at least two years for the second read or it wasn't exciting enough.

    Certain books I have reread three or four times. I've read Bill Bryson's 'Neither Here Nor There' four times now and I never seem to tire of it. Ditto for Barbara Kingsolver's 'Bean Trees' and 'Pigs in Heaven'. And I NEVER get rid of memoirs I've enjoyed; I know I'll go back to them. Sheila Payne's 'The Afghan Amulet' is one book I will definitely reread.

  16. I reread:

    Diana Wynne Jones
    Margaret Maron
    Robin McKinley
    Golden Age Mysteries (Ngaio Marsh, Agatha Christie, etc)
    Rex Stout
    Josephine Tey
    Georgette Heyer

    I have a bad memory, so after a time I can re-read almost anything. :) But for the most part I re-read things I liked because I remember enjoying them.

  17. Regular re-reads for me are Harry Potter and The Bell Jar. Re reading Harry Potter is like visiting old friends, like some of the other posters mentioned. The Bell Jar is my all time favourite novel. I re read it about once every year I'd say.

  18. Okay, I'm insane. I don't find the re-reading a likable book is any different from watching a favorite movie more than once. Rather than skimming, I'm tempted to linger.

    And, really, for some books the first time through is just to see what the books is about. Each read changes the book, the experience (when the book is GOOD). No one can watch THE SIXTH SENSE twice and experience the movie the same way. Second time is so much better! Same thing with wonderful novels by wonderful writers.

    Or let me put it this way. If you were on the proverbial deserted island and you get briung only three books with you... would you choose books you haven't read yet?

  19. I cannot skim or skip, but I love to reread!

  20. The first read is for the story - to see what happen. The second and subsequent reads are to savour the book. I like books that have depth, that will give you something new the second, third, and tenth time you read them, that will give you something different over the years as you begin to identify with different characters in them. Not all books are rereadable - if the language is merely functional and the plot is driven by lots of tension but not much inbetween, 'knowing what happens' means that there's little enjoyment in rereading. On the other hand, when you get a comple, multi-layered book with dense language you might not 'get' it on a first read, particularly if you're distracted and having to put it down several times and read only at the weekends - so those are books I tend to appreciate more as I reread them.

  21. People often ask me how I can re-read. When asked all of them admit to regularly watching movies multiple times. Books are the same. You get something new out of it because you are a new person each time you sit down with it. and sometimes it's just fun to visit something you already know. I have known my family for 35 years, but I don't get tired of them or "skim" my time with them.

  22. personally i reread books because every time i read a book it seems like i read something that i must have missed the first time. or sometimes so much time goes by that ill start thinking about things that happen in a book ive read and ill try to remember what happened next and i cant