I don’t remember when I started reading the Murderbot stories, but it couldn’t have been more than ten days ago, and I’m on my third reread of the entire series. What I want to know is, why?
That is, what makes a story re-readable or re-watchable?
I must have read The Grand Sophy well over a dozen times. I’ve seen the pilots of Leverage and Person of Interest at least a dozen times. And now I’m obsessively reading the Murderbots. Why do we go back to the same stories again and again?
If you were hoping I had an answer to this, turn back now. I don’t think it’s character; Stephen King’s very excellent Bag of Bones had great characters and I will never read it again. It’s not a soothing plot; I just read a fun romance that was pure fantasy and enjoyed seeing every unrealistic dream come true for the heroine, but I’ll never go back to it. It’s not emotional resonance; Shadowlands is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, but it was so emotionally powerful, I doubt I’ll ever watch it again.
So I’m pretty sure we don’t re-read or re-watch just because a story is really good. So what is it?
Over to you all.
73 thoughts on “Re-Read-Ability”
Stories I go back to are set in worlds I could live in, peopled by characters I’d enjoy knowing, doing things I’d want done. Not necessarily want to do, mind. Love reading about Miles Vorkosigian without in the least identifying with him. I’d love to meet him, or his friends.
People in this house like darker video than I. I opted right out of Stranger Things. Good story, acting, a world I’ve lived in(small town in the woods in the 80’s), mostly liked the characters but so can’t watch children in constant harms way. So what happens can be the break point.
Very much this. I would love to live in Sunnyvale, I think I could be a big help to the slayer, actually, or Vorbarr Sultana … worlds I don’t want to live in don’t draw me back for re-reads.
I think that what makes a novel re-readable will be different for everyone. Depth is important to me, I need to find something new each time I re-read. I speed read and my memory for details on the first read isn’t that great, if I enjoy the story, I will re-read to get more details. Stories with depth, or an author who is really good with words or phrases, means the more times I read it, the more I get out of it. The Curse of Chalion, Lois McMaster Bujold, is one where I was still getting something new every time after about 5 re-reads.
Unfortunately there _is_ a point where I remember too many of the details, so subsequent reads don’t give me as much, but that doesn’t stop me from reading it again.
Sometimes stories are so different, something completely new, that I need to re-read. I read Written in Red, Anne Bishop, finished it, then turned around and started it again straight away. The concept was so different from what I’d read before.
They also need to grab me the first time, if they don’t I’m not going to re-read them!
I think the final thing for me is it must be satisfying, that I finish it and go Yeah, that was good.
I *love* that series! I’ve reread it several times, particularly the first one.
I reread books because they make me happy/comfort me (your books, for instance, or Katie Fforde, or the Dorothy Gilman books I’m rereading right now)–they are like sliding into a hot bath with a glass of wine. These kinds of books are the ones I read during times like this when I need comfort and can’t think well enough to read new books. I read them in the dark of winter, or when I’m overwhelmed or sick. Chocolate books, I’d call these.
I also reread books (the the Bujold books mentioned above, or Dick Francis, or Patricia Briggs) because I love the characters and the adventures they go on. I get to know the world and the people and they are a great escape. These are more meals than dessert, but I know the food is fabulous and sustaining.
I still haven’t read the MurderBot books. Apparently I need to.
I too like the “chocolate books” moniker.
For me, re-reading books is partly characters, partly story but mostly the quality of the writing. I savor a well-written book like chocolate, the words melting in my mouth. I have mentioned this a number of times already over the years, but a literature prof of mine once said that in most great literature, the story is often trivial and sometimes banal, but way in which the words are put together determine its greatness. Like painting — a simple subject but the use of color and light and proportion make it eternal.
I remember that, in spite of having read and re-read Jane Austen over and over for decades, I had somehow, inexplicably, never got around to reading Northanger Abbey until quite late. I so loved the book that the moment I finished it, I returned to the first page and read it straight through again. The words are like warm butter, the characters real and authentic…the story was light and amusing but so pitch perfect was the language. It’s Austin’s use of the language and the verbal pictures she paints that are so beguiling — that wry distillation of personality, the universality of the tale, the vividness of the society
It’s like listening to favorite music or re-watching a favorite film. Something resonates. A feeling or memory or state of being is invoked. What that “something” is varies from person to person, but there must be something beyond just individual, in order to explain the re-reading of certain books by millions of people.
FWIW, I think the love of re-hearing stories is inborn in us — the oral tradition in which the same stories are told over and over and over, generation after generation after generation seems to be part of the human condition.
Murderbot is the darkest richest chocolate.
Yes! Books as food is a great analogy for me. I think a first-read is more about curiosity, hopeful that it’ll be good for sure, but not having soul-satisfying expectations. Rereads have to have passed the test of savoriness–good story, bright action, compelling characters, satisfying development of its parts, “effortless” good writing. Choosing what to reread then becomes a matter of what do I crave at the moment? Snarky, funny, spicy, righteous dialogue (always a need for me)? A light, frothy, ethereal hit (like the best souffle you’ve ever eaten)? Meaty, chewy comfort?
Then a final category of rereads, like others have already said: I would go back to examine the recipe–HOW did writer make this book so good? Not that I would do anything knowing that. I’m not a writer, baker or a good cook. My superpower is being a very good consumer, if I say so myself.
Hm… knowing what you’re getting and it being needed at the moment – so comfort that is tuned to you.
Depth and discovering something new about a story or person you love…
A lot of mine are tied to earlier points in life. Were I to read the book the first time now, i’d be hard pressed to perhaps even like it. But I loved it so much at the time, the love stuck with me. Those are dangerous and don’t always hold up to a reread.
I don’t know why one wouldn’t reread a good book thats definitely enjoyed…. I’m in the same boat, but I’m not sure why. Perhaps feeling like there’s nothing more you can get from it? No deeper layer, but also no enjoyment watching the story unfold again now that you’ve seen it once? Doesn’t mean it wasn’t good the first time round, but you don’t see yourself getting something new, or the same level of enjoyment the first time, so diminishing returns?
I know that as I’ve aged, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I won’t reread things and have been letting books go (hoarded them as a child), which has been interesting to experience.
I also tend not to read nonfiction again. So once read, even knowing I’ll forget most of it, I let the book go. Initial pleasure at learning done, don’t like the subject, or need it for reference, enough to keep further.
I just read the first Murderbot novella and am part-way into the third. (I’ve put the second one on hold at my library.) I am fascinated by the focal character (the books are first person), by the human qualities of that non-human, by the role of media in that character’s life, and by the structure of the narratives. There is no saggy middle, because there isn’t a middle at all–at least in the first one. I don’t know if I’ll reread, but I will certainly read the whole batch of them.
Thank you, Argh, for the recommendation.
For reasons mentioned above, especially the sense of satisfaction that comes from reliving, yet again, how…
Jane Eyre finds a family of her own and independence
Valancy Stirling speaks her mind to her repressive family and finds her own life
Taylor Greer finds a way to keep Turtle (albeit illegally, and thus another book is required)
Sir Tristram promises Miss Thane he’ll ride ventre à terre to her deathbed.
Miss Buncle writes a runaway bestseller
Emily Bird Starr writes a runaway bestseller
Captain Wentworth writes, “You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope….”
Ooh, I love The Blue Castle! That is definitely one to reread.
Me too – necklace of red clover. Ladies of Missalonghi made me so mad when I realized it was a knockoff.
I need to go re-read me some LMM.
I guess it’s a variation on why people buy the new book by an author they like – to an extent they want the same thing again. If I re-read a book I usually want something I got last time (I want to go back to that world again and re-live the story or enjoy the puns) or the same but different (I want to read a whodunnit while knowing whodunnit).
The thing that gets me is some people re-read books they don’t like as if they’re going to like it better if they work on it. I say get out while the goings good. There are too many good books out there I haven’t read to waste time on something I know I’m probably not going to like.
This week I’ve been re-reading Jilly Cooper’s earlier romances. Witty and frothy and oddly dark in places. They are a delight.
I like her early ones, too. I gave up on her bonkbusters.
I never heard the term bonkbusters before. Love it! Hate them!
I often feel like an outlier here b/c I don’t reread a lot. I think I must have as a child b/c some childhood books are so vivid to me, but even then I don’t *remember* rereading them, so maybe they just made a big impression on my young mind. I read to find out “what happens next” and “how do they get out this” and once that’s resolved, even a book I really love (and keep!) doesn’t usually hold much interest for a full reread.
There are a few exceptions and most of them are very old books. I feel like one of the reasons I can re-read “Pride and Prejudice” and “Persuasion” and “Jane Eyre” is b/c they’re not written in mostly full scenes like modern fiction. There’s a lot of description and interior thought and it just doesn’t feel satisfying unless you let everything build slowly. I had this realization in college when I could read “Hotel New Hampshire” by John Irving over and over again (it helps it was one of the 3 books I had in English). I read in an interview where he admitted he didn’t really watch a lot of TV or movies and most of his inspiration was from authors like Charles Dickens. A light bulb went on for me then.
I’m glad not everyone writes in that style though. It’s not a voice that works for every writer.
But aside from my personal quirk, I think I agree, it’s usually characters I want to spend time with, a world I want to be in, and very importantly – a strong voice. That is what makes Crusies re-readable all the way through (to me). The only book I can think of where my reason for re-reading is more “plotty” was the book “Passage” by Connie Willis. That’s the only book I can remember reading the last page and flipping to beginning and starting over again immediately. I’m usually immune to plot twists, but that one got me.
I do reread some of my childhood favorites to my kids and that’s been a mixed bag. Shout out to Jo Walton for writing about the “Suck Fairy.” The Suck Fairy is definitely real.
It’s funny you mention Passage. That’s one that I read at a bad time in my life (my best friend was dying or had just passed away), and I couldn’t deal with that topic. I’ll probably never pick it up to read again because of that.
I think there’s something about surprise for me. Not big moments of surprise, not twists where once you know what happens the surprise is gone, but the little moments of unexpected. And also voice.
In Murderbot, both come from the internal dialogue, I think. Opening one of the novellas to a random page: “Or drown; I guess they could just drown. If you were wondering why I was wincing earlier, this would be the reason.” I don’t know how many times I’ve read this novella — six, seven? At least that many. But it’s for moments like that.
For me, it’s the likability of the characters. I reread books all the time – and I do it because I want to spend time with those characters. They are people I’d like to know, admire, have as close friends. Sometimes I share “their” interests, values, humor, intelligence, commiserate with their struggles. Gabe and Nell, Riley and Suz – I like the wit, the pace, the problems they face are similar to mine. I long for the happy endings, but also those moments of connection that break down my feelings of ‘oh crap, I’m the only one’. For me, it’s like reaching for a good friend – that old movie with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn – beautiful people with secrets and issues and struggles.
Interestingly, the books I don’t reread (and they are few, as I usually don’t keep ’em around), have good, too-much-like-me characters, but don’t have the ‘spend time with me’ resonance or appeal.
I’ve been thinking about this, and I think the ones I reread obsessively are the ones with community, especially characters finding and building communities.
I love Murderbot’s voice and character, and the plots are exciting, but my favorite part of all so far is when he finds ART again and they yell at each other because they’re so mad at each other and so glad to see each other.
So maybe not just community. Maybe it’s characters I love interacting, connecting. It’s not just “This was a really good book” because there are a lot of those I don’t reread again.
All I know is, the day the next Murderbot hits (next April) I will sit down and read it as soon as it hits my Kindle.
“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
With rereading, I’d say the second factor is often the main one that makes rereading appealing (or unappealing), especially when rereading soon after a first reading. You may want the same river (the same reading experience) but you’re not going to get it because you’re not the same person (you’ve already read the book).
Since books keep the same words, the first factor usually has more to do context the reader brings to the book. Rereading a book after its sequel comes out, for example, it can be a genuinely different book (and that can be good or bad depending on the sequel). Or if the world the reader is living in has changed, that can change what the same words mean because it’s a different context.
But with the second factor… Reading or rereading the book changes you, whether it’s picking up a mood from the book, the moment by moment experience of living the plot along with the characters, insights about people or insights about the way the world works, different ways of looking at the world, the shocking realization that you are not alone because this author is writing something that you recognize in yourself… Some changes don’t change you all the way the first time. You don’t notice everything, you can’t understand all the possible insights, you’re too shocked to take in all the details. The mood fades and you want it back. Or maybe you needed to be the different person who already knows what happens to be able to notice subtleties about how it happens. That’s what (IMO) makes rereading worthwhile. There’s still a change happening within you (and it’s still a change that you enjoy, whether it’s the same change as the previous time or not). If the book stops changing you in any way, then rereading is not much different than staring at the wall.
So I don’t think there are books that are just inherently rereadable as a property of the book itself, it’s the match between the book and the reader. (But books with more layers or uncommon insights or a really fun mood or a plot that’s relatable or whatever may be more likely to be rereadable for a larger range of readers.)
This. This exactly.
The “match between the book and the reader” – yes! Exactly.
Also, *cough* at first I thought you were quoting Disney’s Pocahontas… >.>
Interesting question. For me, I think it’s not about any one element but about the combination of those elements. That whole rare “magic in a bottle” thing.
It’s kind of like a recipe, though, in that it usually starts off with a main ingredient that is required (for me that’s characters I care about). Then the rest of the ingredients can vary in quantity but still need to add the right flavours to draw me back again and again. Things like place (mostly pretty in some way), main conflict, tone, smart dialogue, etc.
But there’s a caveat for me: I only go back to a story on occasion. With some distance. Because otherwise I can get to dislike something I actually liked originally. The only exception is a first viewing where if something really captures me and is really rich in story, I may revisit it immediately afterward to pick up on elements I may have missed.
And I’m not big on anything because it’s the IT thing. Or super great storytelling or masterful performances or whatever. When I was younger I sampled more (aka tried things I was skeptical about, mostly movies/TV seen with others). But now I’m more discerning and am more careful about which stories I expose myself to. And like Deb said, I like my comfort stories, not just if I’m stressed, but because I like the happy vibes they bring. So there’s that, too:)
I agree with people who said they want to visit with loved characters, but there is also a factor of choosing something I expect to evoke a certain feeling, just as I choose to listen to music that takes me to “that place” reliably.
To use a movie example, there are two or three scenes from “Scent of a Woman” that I could re-watch forever, but I can barely tolerate the rest of the movie, so it is obviously my reaction, not the plot or characters per se that I love.
I re-read The Circle of Magic books because it’s like visiting old friends. We’ll talk about the same things that we’ll always talk about, but we will have a good time together.
So I guess interesting characters that elicit my empathy.
There’s a similar feel to Crazy For You and Bet Me, in that, there’s a good support system. The thing that keeps me going back is the empowering journey of Quinn and Min. If they can do it, I can too.
More recently, Melissa Caruso’s Swords and Fire series has a way of weaving the character development and the development of relationships in an amost lyrical way.
Books that have thin plots and simple characterisation are quickly completed and put aside, unlikely to be read again.
The Circle of Magic books are fabulous. In fact, almost everything by Tamora Pierce is on my reread list.
I always think of Hereclitis. He said you can never step in the same river twice; I can never step in the same book twice.
For me, during my med school residency, I reread a lot of children’s books, haunting the hospital bookstore. For example, I still have the copy of Sarah, Plain and Tall that I bought there. I don’t seem to need them as much now.
I reread Jeanne Ray’s Eat Cake because I find it enormously comforting, yummy (cake!), and funny (teenage Camille finally chipping in).
I’m in the middle of rereading Dana Stabenow’s Kate Shugak series, one of my all-time favourites. The first time, I’m all about plot. Re-reading, I love her interactions with her half-wolf dog Mutt as well as her man, and I marvel at some of the minor characters who develop their own story (Old Sam, the Aunties, Moses, and Willard, for example).
I know what you mean if it’s too heart-wrenching. I’ve never re-watched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon because it ripped my heart out of my body.
I usually just re-read my favourite parts anyway. Often it’s romance/family/pet stuff that make me happy. When I watched Jane Eyre with the National Theatre, I realized I’d never reread her whole, horrible childhood and concentrated on “Reader, I married him.”
I read a lot. I’m retired, and a speed-reader; I can finish a “normal-sized” book (250 pages) in about three hours.
That said, I will occasionally re-read, because some thought or impulse will remind me of a beloved book and I’ll think “I want to visit that again!” Wen Spencer, John Sandford, Robert B. Parker, Jim Butcher, and Anne Bishop are the only hardbound books I’ve kept out of my extensive (one whole room in my house, floor to ceiling books at one time) collection when I downsized. Everything else is on my Nook. (I didn’t want to re-buy whole collections to put on my Nook.)
The real advantage of being my age, now, and having read so much, is that I frequently don’t remember all the details – so there is always something fresh and new in every re-read!
It varies for me. Some things are funny, but I can’t re-read because I remember the jokes. Some things are dark and well-written, but I don’t always want dark.
Some things are light and comforting, but too bland for a re-read. Some books are the perfect combo of funny or suspenseful or comforting, but are very much interesting enough to re-read. Some stories are dark, but in a wonderfully built alternate reality, and I enjoy re-reading them.
But, that said, I can never predict what will make me want to pick up a book over and over again.
I don’t re-read books all that much, but here is what I will do. If it is a book that is part of a series, especially if it is in KU and I like the author and if the books come out in a bundle of let’s say five or seven and reasonably priced, I will buy the set. To me it is the same as seeing a paperback of a book I’ve already read and add it to my stash for when I’m in the mood. That happens a lot when there is talk of one of Jenny’s or SEP’s, etc. I check the book case and more than likely it will be a eureka moment.
I remember reading Terry Pratchett’s “The Fifth Elephant” and just turning right back to the beginning and re-reading it again immediately. One reason I’m re-reading the Murderbot series again is that I read too quickly and I miss a plot point.
I re-read old friends because I like the characters or the author’s voice, or the community. I like to visit my younger self who read those books.
I re-read a lot, to me it is like visitors old friends.
The Murderbot books are great audio books done by Kevin R Free. I listened to them thru my libraries sister app RBdigital.
I won’t repeat what others said but there are definitely books which have surprise endings where I have to go back and reread because it’s a different book when you have learned the surprise. The Thief by Megan Turner Whalen is especially like that but a lot of her books are.
There are other books too where you get more and more each time. Bujold, Kingfisher. And there are some books where you just admire the craftsmanship.
I feel like that about certain ballets too. I could watch pretty much any Balanchine ballet over and over.
Ha! I just read, and then re-read, The Thief. Better the second time around (when I could also skim parts of less interest to me.
Argh !!! Visiting, not visitors – I have to remember to proof read before I hit Post Comment.
Ok, this is really off topic, but 70 years ago today Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith stood on the Senate Floor and read her Declaration of Conscience.
This was in the era of Joseph McCarthy and she was Republican but her words still ring true today.
Go to Wikipedia and look it up. I had it bookmarked and was cleaning up old bookmarks and didn’t realise the serendipity of the date.
I can’t link it on my phone, but it is worth a look see.
Oh, that is a wonderful link !!!
I don’t know her story but a woman Senator in the 1950’s, she must have been an extraordinary woman
I lost track of how many times I’ve read the Murderbot novellas. (The omnibus is coming in September if you like print!) I reread it because I adore Murderbot and sort of want to be them. Competent, reluctantly caring, learning how to be a person however uncomfortable that is. I reread Manhunting because I wish I were her. So I think the books I reread the most are ones where I overlap with the character in some way. Lord Peter with his inner tragedies, Harriet Vane with her writing and misreading of character in real life, Cordelia Vorkosigan with doing the hard things. The ones I don’t reread are where I have no overlap.
Re-reading is like sex.
I read the line and applied it at work. “Why do you read stories more’n once, Gary?” a coworker asks. “You already know how it ends.” The reply is, “You ever have sex with your wife after the wedding night? Why – you already know how it ends.”
Some books are more titillating than others. Different positions, foreplay, lingerie, etc. I am definitely a re-reader.
I feel that one day I will read the Murderbot things, but right now I am letting them be in the maybe someday column.
I re-read books constantly. Most of the time I think it’s for characters. If I really connect with a character and I like what the author does with that story, I’ll go back to it because I want to see that character get that happy ending again (happy endings are a thing for me. I don’t read ‘literary fiction’ where everybody is miserable).
Example: Dick Francis – I have all his books and have read them all more than once, but some I don’t go back to often. ‘Knockdown’ I re-read recently because it came up on sale and I thought ‘oooh DF haven’t read any of his for a while.’ But it’s a sad book. The little bit of romance DF almost always put in doesn’t have a ‘this is it’ trajectory. The other important side character, the hero’s brother … well, he’s a sad character and bad things happen, and the hero is left in a really low/dark place at the end. Whereas ‘Flying Finish,’ ‘Straight’ and ‘Hot Money’ I have read at least 10x each because I love those heroes, and the resolutions are (in spite of a lot of grief in both books, DF always beat the shit out of his heroes) really satisfying.
Sometimes I like a book so much I tear through it too fast. Then I have to re-read it to catch whatever I might have missed the first time. 🙂
There was some sadist in Francis. I loved Hot Money, though, that’s another repeated re-read for me.
The Murderbots are hard to describe because they’re technically about an AI, but since he’s part human, there’s a huge character growth for him, he has human reactions and a dry sense of humor, he builds a community without meaning to, and he saves people. I’m not a fantasy reader as far as the magical realms and shape shifting and all of that, but these feel very contemporary, especially his obsession with TV serials and movies. The SF stuff is important but never the biggest thing, and any set-up is done as part of the action so you’re not overwhelmed and the story keeps going. I put off reading them because they were SF and I just wanted comfort, but they’re incredibly comforting.
Now that I think of it, they’re very like Dick Francis. The hero is extremely competent and gets shot and beat up to a life-threatening extent (and then gets repaired because he’s mostly bot), the bad guys are Really Evil, and Good Always Wins. Just no horses.
I am about to reread these in preparation for the new novel, but I wanted to note that in my reading, Murderbot was a she. Though I’m pretty sure “they” would be more accurate. But at no point did it occur to me that they could be a he.
This may have come across as a criticism, but it’s not. I found it interesting that in another comment one of us used “they” and then Jenny used “he” and in both cases my snap reaction was “no, SHE.” I will be interested to see if I feel the same way when I reread them. Not sure why I feel the need to gender Murderbot!
I was wrong. I’ve now read all five books at least four times (it’s my way of pulling the covers over my head this week to hide from reality) and Murderbot prefers “it.” “It” is not dehumanizing in the sense that it’s a bad thing; Murderbot is on record for saying that he definitely does not want to be human, so a pronoun that rejects the idea of human would appeal. I think I get “he” because I keep seeing it as Wentworth Miller, who was usually stoic and deadpan and sarcastic as Captain Cold, the closest visual analog I had to Murderbot.
I’ve never had any problem with “they” as a gender neutral pronoun, my problem is that it’s plural, damn it, so that’s a syntax error. I will have to get over that since the only other solutions are “it” which is dehumanizing when used on a human, and inventing a new word and I just don’t have the energy for that. “They” it is.
Funny, I was just thinking the same thing. Murderbot came across as a she to me too.
I just read the first one (thank you for the recommendation, Jenny) and I also heard it as a she, but I was thinking that if the author’s name wasn’t so clearly female, I would have read the character as a he.
Doesn’t Murderbot state a preference for “it” at some point?
My personal intuition is that “she” seems slightly more accurate than “he”, “they” more accurate than “she”, and “it” is most accurate but hard to use because it seems wrong to use “it” for a person. But I think Murderbot is changing that, because if it’s an it, then its are people too.
I hadn’t thought of that. It’s definitely changing, evolving, but it’s still rejecting the idea that it’s in any way human even while having human responses. It pushed back on ART’s ways of making it look more human because of that. But it doesn’t object when Ratthi says, “It is a person.” So we may be down to semantics now. It doesn’t yell at Amena when she calls it “third mother,” either.
It’s funny how much of the sense of the character changes when I think of it as “she.” Then all that furious nurturing it does of its clients–that “touch my humans and die” stuff–doesn’t seem as radical.
I wonder if I see ART, another it, as female because I’m knee-jerk heterocentric and I see Murderbot as male. Obviously neither has sexual characteristics, ART doesn’t even have a body and Murderbot rejected strenuously ART’s idea that he should have a human sexual parts, which I assumed would be a penis but that I’m pretty sure was just suggested as human sexual equipment.
I really love those books.
Murderbot and Ann Leckie’s Ancillary trilogy are in conversation about what it means to be a person; an individual, someone who matters.
I reread things that provide small, reliable, repeatable pleasures. Those are important.
I re-read for two reasons, I think. One is about escapism, like re-reading a book that’s entertaining and well-written and emotionally easy to read because I know how the plot. Those are the comfort reads, things I read when I need a break. I re-read a lot of murder mysteries for that reason, and authors like Jane Austen.
The other is about how the book makes me feel, especially books that fill me with hope and energy. I read “Red, White and Royal Blue” 3 times in a row because of that. And that’s why I re-read Pratchett.
I’ve thought about this all day, in idle moments. I’m no further ahead.
I re-read good books – ones that are written well, have depth, and have new things to discover, even if that new thing is just another appreciation of the author’s talent. It’s like admiring art, right? Just because you’ve seen a painting once, doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile looking at it again – in different lights, moods, frames of mind, knowledge of the work. Having seen it before influences how you see it again. And the pieces you like you can sit at and look and look and look (like Vermeer, right? extraordinary). Maybe re-reading is the same.
Ian McEwan is an extraordinary writer, whose books tick all those boxes, and I never re-read them because they’re so uncomfortable. Some art, no matter the talent and skill with which it is created, I’m happy not to see again. And other books (and artworks) are light and fluffy and fun (and superficial?), but I don’t care to re-visit those either.
Maybe, it’s beauty? In however we perceive beauty so that it’s not just prettiness – plot, writing, characters, arc, meaning, community, insight…
You write beautiful books, Jenny 🙂
Thank you, that’s a wonderful compliment.
I resisted your painting analogy at first and then realized you were right. It’s the experience we’re going back for and since we can’t step in the same river twice (see comments from three different Arghers) the experience is the same but different every time, and every time it’s how it makes us feel that sends us back. I think.
So maybe part of the reason we don’t re-read is that the narrative is thin enough that it’ll be the same, not different? Or because the experience is too harrowing or emotionally draining to go through again?
So maybe part of the reason we don’t re-read is that the narrative is thin enough that it’ll be the same, not different? Or because the experience is too harrowing or emotionally draining to go through again?
this, exactly. either, or both of these, for different works
A friend asked me once in Paris what my plans for the day were and I said I was spending at the Louvre looking at paintings. And he said “But you’ve seen them before” And I said “You are allowed to look at something more than once. ….Just like you listen to the BeeGees more than once”.
I reread for different reasons at different times. Sometimes I just want to laugh. Most of the time, I want to pretend that I can have a HEA, too. But sometimes, I just want to appreciate the way a certain author uses words. I remember sitting up at 2am one night feeling frustrated because I couldn’t share a certain phrase with a friend because of the hour. The only thing that these rereads have in common is that I know they will provoke the emotional response I crave.
I reread beloved books for the same reason I revisit beloved friends. Some people can be perfectly pleasant, but as someone once said to me about dating, so are potted plants. But interesting people who engage your mind and make you laugh are a treasure. You become a better person for being around them. So I’ll reread Pratchett, Sayers, Laurie R King, Dorothy Gilman, and many others because the characters are interesting and even if I know how it ends, it’s still a fascinating journey.
I mostly re-read comfort reads for me. They tick the boxes that I love. Usually a found community, has to have a huge dose of humor, a competent main character who is surrounded by quirky characters.
It’s comfort food for my soul.
I am a speed reader, a normal sized book, 250-350 pages is only a three hour read for me, so I do a LOT of re-reading otherwise my habit gets too expensive, LOL
Anne Bishops Written in Red I read, and immediately read again. It ticked all those boxes. Agnes and the Hitman was the same way, comfort food, it was a page turner, interesting, funny, had tons of character insights, quirky side characters, the dialogue was amazing, the characters had a great arc through the book, it had a found community featured throughout, it just hit all my high points that my soul loves to read. I will re-read that book a couple times a year all my life. Same for JFK’s Harmony books, each one I know what I’m going to read, the dust bunnies, strong funny competent heroine, a mystery, quirky characters, I can sink down and just enjoy myself.
You just listed a bunch of my comfort reads/faves for pretty much the same reasons I have!
I reread frequently. Books are like old friends; you don’t ditch the old friends because you made new ones. They provide comfort when needed, escape from worries, travels away from the mundane, add excitement from a safe place, and they don’t argue with you! LOL. If I am in the mood for a certain type of book, I know which one(s) will meet that need and a new to me book might not meet that particular need. That doesn’t mean I won’t read new books, I will, but I like to revisit my old friends as well.
Exactly! Many new books discovered on Argh Ink. Many more rereads.
The writing has to appeal to me. Not just the story, but the way the words are put together. Narnia, the E. Nesbit/Edward Eager magic books, Lord Peter Wimsey, Crusies (especially Charlie All Night, which was the first one I read and still holds a special place in my heart), Liz Fielding, several Dick Francis, certain Nora Roberts/JD Robb books, some Heyers–those are the ones I go back to. I need to know what happens and want to reread the happening. Sometimes I just reread the end, but often I find myself starting from the beginning.
I have a separate category. Books I loved but am afraid to reread because I will never love them as much as the first time. Actually just one book: A Prayer for Owen Meany. I read it at exactly the right time in exactly the right mood and loved it beyond measure. It made me laugh out loud (and cry too), which books (particularly books for adults) hardly ever do. I’ve read other Irving books more than once, but I can’t bring myself to read that one again.
There’s a book I read as a child, probably about 10, that I loved. I read it at night when I had been ill–I definitely remember cough drops–and then returned to the library. I forgot the title but not the story. Years later I was at the library and saw the edge of a book sticking out behind another on a flat shelf (the kind where you see the fronts of the books, not the spines) and I knew it immediately. I still remember the physical sensation of the shock of recognition. Of course I checked it out and reread it. The magic was gone. It was still a good book, but not the book I remembered. (It was The Changeling by Zilpha Keatley Snyder.)
I loved The Changeling, in fact I absconded with it from the school library for most of the year when finally my conscience got the better of me and I returned it. I think it was Ivy rather then Martha that caught my attention, plus the wonderful illustrations of Alton Raible.
I loved The Changeling so much that I tried to draw a scene from the book – and I was not a child who drew.
I also loved Black and Blue Magic. Years later, when I read it aloud with our kids, I was surprised at how slowly it moves.
I also read older authors, nowadays they are not all P C but I love them because of the comfort they brought me, I am, like Jenny asthmatic, the treatment was bed rest, it was a long time ago and I was very young. So they are comfort reads. I don’t know if anyone has heard of Edgar Jepson.? He got me through many an attack. Also D E Stevenson. I still have those books
On a more cheerful 😃 note I was checking Sharon Lees blog and they (Steve Miller) have a list of the books they have been rereading and tada🎡🎡 most of Jenny’s books are on that list. Go Jenny. And thank you for the Good Book Thursday. I am getting more authors to enjoy as all the Arghers have Very good taste.
I agree with so many of you on the elements of a book that make it worth re-reading. Characters I find appealing, good crisp clear writing, the discovery or building of a safe & loving community, some humor and some evidence of empathy with other people — all of these are building blocks.
Thinking about what else matters to me was interesting, because there are books that have some or even all of those qualities that I feel no interest in going back to. Anne of Green Gables, for example. Those are sweet, dear books and I’m glad I read them, but I don’t want to pick them up again.
I think the quality I’m looking to describe is something like growth or deepening of awareness in one or more of the protagonists. Go back to the beginning and he/she is so very different, but reading the book again lets you see the changing and awakening in so many little ways that it’s almost like you are learning with her (or him) and you are becoming a better person just by reading the book again.
I think for me, the books I like to reread have a world, relationships, and characters I would like to be with. When I reread them, I feel cozy and calm and safe, even if the story contains danger and tension, because I know it will all be okay. These days, my depression is virtually nil, just the ‘normal’ kind that people feel when they — for example — can’t leave their home for weeks on end and they don’t have a job. Ahem. But my anxiety is still very bad and I think that’s why it can be very hard for me to read new books by new authors, especially right now. Books I’ve loved before I generally love again. Manhunting, Welcome to Temptation, and Agnes and the Hitman are on this list. Much of Ilona Andrews books, especially her Innkeeper series. With some of their books, I might just go back to read a particular scene in a particular book because it fills some need in me at that point — like when Kate is involved in an amazing sword fight because she is in pain and stress and think the man she loves is betraying her. ( I have no idea what that scene means for me.) Bishop’s Written in Red, the first book in her Others series.
I don’t reread books that tear me apart emotionally, no matter how good they are. One More Summer by Liz Flaherty is one of the best books I’ve ever read: real, compelling characters; real, compelling situations; brilliantly written. It was excellent but I don’t want to cry that much ever again. (I recommend it, unless you are a fragile hothouse flower like me, then I recommend caution.)
I didn’t used to reread (except Nova, Samuel Delaney), then I read Sunshine, by Robin McKinley, a few years ago and started it all over again immediately on finishing it. I’ve since read it several times, and each time I’m caught anew by her writing. It’s simply brilliant – “a pressure at the known boundaries”.
One Night in the Lonesome October (Roger Zelazny) is my annual October read, one chapter a day, been that for years, and I’ve reread several of his others multiple times. Seanan McGuire is another. I’ve read Every Heart a Doorway half a dozen times, and it still glows with magic. It’s not just the author; the October Daye series doesn’t do that for me, nor the Cryptid set, and her Mira Grant stuff definitely not. But Every Heart just drips magic all over my psyche when I read it. Garth Nix’s Lirael is another; the Disreputable Dog gets me every time, especially the bit about her growing suckers on her feet to get across the wet bridge. But I don’t go back to the others in the series. I liked them, but they were a “once funny” joke.
I know half my Crusies nearly by heart, I’ve read or listened to them so many times. They are my main comfort food of books: mac & cheese & sausage, homemade from scratch, baked until the top is crispy. Agnes is probably my number one fave.
So, like others here, I reread different books for different reasons. Some make me think, others take the world away. My October tradition is mostly that, a tradition, plus I’m still working out parts of the story. When my heart needs to grow, it’s Seanan McGuire. When the evil of the world is getting to be too much, and I need to remember just how ridiculous it all is, I pull out Tanya Huff’s Keeper series and am reminded that evil is just too stupid and self-involved to ever win.
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