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The joys of rereading

Rereading may seem like a waste of time when there are hundreds or maybe thousands of books out there you want to read and oodles more that are available and you have yet to learn about. Still, I love to reread certain books and have read some as often as 20 times or more.

There are many reasons why I reread. When I have the blues, sometimes just the anticipation of an upcoming joke in a familiar funny book can pull me out of it. When I’m depressed or sad or upset, a comfortable familiar book can soothe my feelings, and when I am sick and unable to concentrate on a new book an old familiar one can make me forget my illness for a while. But I don’t just reread when something is wrong with me, I also do it when I’m happy or feeling lazy or in any other kind of mood. Sometimes I half-remember something I want to remember fully, and it is often easier to just reread the entire book that go looking for the remembered detail by skimming over the text.

The books I reread belong to various genres, but most have in common that they are very readable and make me feel good. They can be biographies, travelogues, comic books, fantasies, or mysteries, or indeed any genre, both fiction and non-fiction.

I divide my rereads into three categories: one time rereads, repeat rereads and perennials.

The one time rereads are books I could not help but breeze through at such a speed that many details got lost in the reading, like the last two Harry Potter books and some thrillers and mysteries. I like to go back and read them again at a more sedate pace to savor the details and see what I missed the first time around, without feeling I must read them as if I were in a speed-reading contest. Some of the books I could not help but breeze through on the first read have become repeat rereads and even perennials.

The repeat books are books I come back to every few years (or sometimes after many years), like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books. They are comfort reads, books I return to whenever I don’t feel like reading something new (although in the case of Pratchett I discover something new on nearly every reread).

The perennials are books I have read, on average, once a year or biennially ever since I first discovered them. They are the ultimate comfort reads and coming back to them is like being reunited with old friends. Some have been with me since childhood, like The Hobbit, Anne of Green Gables and My Family and Other Animals, while others are relatively new on my perennials list, like Good Omens and The Lord of the Rings (recently upgraded from repeat status to full perennial since I acquired the unabridged audio book version).

All my rereads have one thing in common: none of them ends badly for the protagonist. A couple have ambiguous endings, but none have bad ones. It’s not that I don’t like books with bad endings, it’s just that my repeat and perennial rereads are comfort reads. I don’t want to be shocked or made to feel sad and/or miserable by the ending when I reread a book. For comfort, I need to know that whatever obstacles and hardships my favourite protagonists have to overcome, they will surmount them and come through, if not unscathed, then at least alive and with a good future or the promise of one ahead of them.


Anonymous said…
I choose my rereads in much the same way, for the feel-good factor. Some of them are books that I have been reading on a regular basis since childhood while others are newfound treasures but they all make me feel better about the world in general.
jenclair said…
Me, too. And some of the same books!

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