Confessions of a Re-Reader

My name is Kelly and I’m a re-reader. I read the same books over and over again–some books I read once every year–and I love it.

My husband doesn’t understand this. He is always reading something new. Sometimes he sees me re-reading a book and rolls his eyes a bit. He has so many questions and protests.

But there are so many new books and so little time!

True. And I read plenty of new books, too. I love tumbling head-first into a brand new book. But I believe there’s also a deep magic in reading a book again for the second, or third, or tenth time. Sometimes re-reading is medicinal; it can help heal things in my heart. I reach for old, beloved books that are tried-and-true at those times, and turn to new, unread books when I’m ready to be swept away. And finite time on Earth doesn’t factor into my decision. I already know it is impossible for me to read every book in the world before I die, and I don’t want to try. I want to read books that challenge me, that comfort me, that surprise me, that make me laugh, or cry, that touch some inner part of me. Sometimes I want to read those books twice.

But you already know what’s going to happen!

Yes. But knowing exactly what’s going to happen only amplifies the tension for me. Knowing that Jo is going to refuse Laurie doesn’t make it any less painful when it happens. (Damn you, Louisa!) In a strange way, I sometimes find myself so invested in the story that despite knowing better I’ll begin to believe that something could turn out differently this time. The emotional resonance of a story well-told is sustaining.

I don’t have the patience for that!

Then you’re missing out. Here’s the thing: the book is always the same. The words on the page are the same words, and in some books they are as familiar as my own heartbeat. I call these my comfort books. I reach for them again and again and they fill up all my hollow spots. The books are always the same, and the characters make the same choices, and the stories have the same endings, but I am the one who has changed. The best way to describe it is to quote a passage from Catcher in the Rye in which Holden describes going to the Museum of Natural History over and over:

The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody’d move. You could go there a hundred thousand times, and that Eskimo would still be just finished catching those two fish, the birds would still be on their way south, the deers would still be drinking out of that water hole, with their pretty antlers and they’re pretty, skinny legs, and that squaw with the naked bosom would still be weaving that same blanket. Nobody’s be different. The only thing that would be different would be you. Not that you’d be so much older or anything. It wouldn’t be that, exactly. You’d just be different, that’s all. You’d have an overcoat this time. Or the kid that was your partner in line the last time had got scarlet fever and you’d have a new partner. Or you’d have a substitute taking the class, instead of Miss Aigletinger. Or you’d heard your mother and father having a terrific fight in the bathroom. Or you’d just passed by one of those puddles in the street with gasoline rainbows in them. I mean you’d be different in some way—I can’t explain what I mean. And even if I could, I’m not sure I’d feel like it.

—J.D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye

Do you like to re-read books too, or do you always pursue new books? If you like to re-read, which books and why?


6 Responses to Confessions of a Re-Reader

  1. Leandra Apr 18 2016 at 9:59 am #

    I love re-reading! It’s definitely comforting. My fav re-reads are the Regency romances by Marion Chesney that I read as a kid. Feels like coming home, and I find I gravitate toward them if I’m stressed out about something.

  2. Janice Hampton Apr 18 2016 at 10:59 am #

    Re-reading my favorite books is one of my favorite things. I love re-reading Jennifer Probst and I have some other Contemporary Romance books I re-read. I find it helps me get more out of it. It’s also good therapy.

  3. Beverley Burgess Bell Apr 18 2016 at 11:16 am #

    omg – I re-read books all the time. They are like old friends that I re-visit when I feel the need for comfort or just to enjoy the thrill once more. It doesn’t matter in the least whether I know the plot or not.

  4. Marc Vun Kannon Apr 18 2016 at 7:58 pm #

    Most of my reading is rereading.
    The argument that I’ve read it before is fallacious. A properly written book changes the reader. The words on the page may be the same, but the person reading them will be different.
    There are so many books, true. And for me the vast majority will prove to be unsatisfactory. I became a writer to create books that I wanted to read, because so few did that.

  5. Marty Apr 19 2016 at 12:18 pm #

    When I was young I read my grandfather’s, grandmother’s. father’s and mother’s books. I come from a long line of voracious readers. The books I keep on my 3 large bookcases are books I’ve read and will re-read again. The ones I’ve read once & probably will not read again are donated to the local library. For example I read my Grandmother’s favorite book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn about every 5 years all thru my life. As a child I identified with the girl, but as a mother, and widow I identify with the mother. It’s like being able to read my grandmother’s mind, knowing her trials. I read all sorts of genres. I have my favorite Agatha Christies and Dick Francis. Lately I have a desire to read my parent’s books: classic sci-fi, and 1940’s noir. Poetry my mother and father liked. I rediscover my favorite children’s books with my grandchildren. Winnie-the-pooh, and The Secret Garden. Really good books are like a favorite dessert to be savored and treasured. I’m always reading new books too. So many lovely adventures.

  6. Graham Downs May 4 2016 at 3:04 am #

    I can count on half of one hand the number of books I’ve read more than once. I just don’t re-read books.

    Oh, I can understand why some people do it. Sometimes, the same words that affected you in one way, will affect you in a completely different way years later. I just can’t bring myself to do it. I’d rather read a different book with a similar message – also, as I get older, my tastes change, so I doubt I’d enjoy many books as much as I once did.

    But it’s not just books. I don’t re-watch movies or TV shows either. There are a few plays I’ve seen multiple times, but that’s different, because the CAST has been different each time, and so the experience is going to be different, too. Even if the cast is the same, the audience (and how the actors relate and react to them) change.

    Where was I? Oh yes – do I re-read books, you ask? No. At least, not very often. Almost never, in fact. 🙂

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