Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Why do you re-read a book?

I've been thinking about this a lot lately. Partly because I am packing up my gigantic collection of  books, trying to decide which ones to keep and which ones to give away or discard. I am shifting continents and I do have to make decisions based on cost–effectiveness. Do I want to take up so much of a container with reading matter I may never look at again?

It's been a very hard task. Sometimes the criteria is clear; if I am going to use a non-fiction book as a reference, then I keep it. With fiction, it's often less clear-cut. A much-loved book seems to cling to me. How can I throw away something that has given me several hours of pleasure?

I wonder what makes a reader decide a book is worth re-reading.

Sometimes I make the decision based on how much of it I can remember. This is particularly true of the early books of the series. If Book 2 of a trilogy is a long time appearing, I might reread Book 1 again. With G. R. R. Martin's Song of Fire and Ice, I continue to buy the books -- but I've actually stopped reading them. When the last book is due out, I shall reread the early books from the beginning and so on until the last volume.

One of the criteria which I use to help me make the decision about whether I want to keep a book is  indeed whether I will  ever read it again. If it's likely that I will once again dip into it, then it's a keeper. The only trouble is: which will I reread? There are books I want to reread simply for the pleasure. I just can't  quite work out just what their commonality is. Why this one, and not that one -- when I enjoyed them both? When the book has a surprise ending, is it worth revisiting? Will it be fun to see all the clues that I missed first time around? Or will the plot disappoint because I now know the ending? Why have I re-read Georgette Heyer's complete oeuvre multiple times when I don't normally even read romance??

I have republished Havenstar as an e-book and I'm astonished by the number of people who have bought it even though they have read the paperback version, and may in fact still have the paperback. So many of them comment that Havenstar is a book they read and reread, sometimes on a yearly basis.

So, tell me: why do YOU re-read a book?

13 comments:

Sharyn said...

the books that live on my re-read shelves (which includes Havenstar) are my comfort reads - the characters and stories that are guaranteed to make me laugh cry and smile; that are as familiar as catching up with old friends.

2paw said...

I reread all my PERN books every year and all my other favourite books I read when I am in the mood for their stories. I love reading boos again because even when I think I know all the nuances of plot and character, I discover new things.

greenspace said...

as Sharyn said, comfort reading is often why I re-read books, and also as 2paw said, because with good books, there's usually something new to discover - a new perspective, spotting a reference to something you weren't familiar with last time you read that book, being able to appreciate the craft of the writing once you're familiar with the story and characters...
and as you say, Glenda, if you're reading a later book in a series (or just another book by that author) and want to refresh your memory of "previously, in this saga" or see how the writer has developed...

Jo said...

I had your problem when we moved back to Canada from the States. I ended up giving hundreds of my books to a second hand book store. One or two they thought good enough to purchase from me. However, I kept a bunch of favourites - my Georgette Heyers for one - I suppose comfort is a good way of thinking about them although some books I could almost quote word for word. I have one book the original of which was given me as a child, The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge (sp) and when I discovered I had lost it, I moved Heaven and Earth until I had another copy. I have read all your books (except the Isles of Glory series which I don't have) at least twice and Havenstar several times. Dick Francis is another I re-read and all of the PERN books. I honestly don't know why, especially when there is so much new stuff to read, but I would hate to part with any of my old favourites. I am even beginning to collect Georgette Heyer books on my Kindle so that if we move to a smaller place I can still keep the writing if not the physical books. I think the old friends comment is closer to the mark.

Glenda Larke said...

I re-read all my Dick Francis too -- but this time I have finally given them away. I look forward to living near a library! But I am still puzzled as to WHY certain books are comfort reads.

Jo said...

I live near a library but I still want to keep my Dick Francis. Its an interesting question Glenda, I don't know what makes one re-read favourites, must be something particular which resonates with the reader but what it is I have no idea. What makes other people barely read at all? and still others not pick up a book if their life depended on it. I think I will throw these questions out on my blog and see what responses I get.

FollowYourMuse said...

This question made me think, why do I re-read books, I do not think I had ever questioned myself on this before, and I re-read regularly. When I think about it there seems to be a set of books that I am always re-reading.
I came up with 3 basic reasons.

1. Many series books I re-read before the next in the series comes out, this is usually based on the time between books, and also the complexity of the series, G. R. R. Martin's Song of Fire and Ice, and Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time are example's of books that have so much going on that a year or more and it is difficult to remember everything that happened.

2. I think the two examples, above, especially Wheel of Time also include the second reason to re-read. Books and series by authors who are very good at subtle foreshadowing and hints, while also leaving too many questions, and establishing tendencies for twists and unexpected plots. So I re-read to catch them, or I re-read slower and with the intention of identifying or trying to speculate.

3. A book has a memory attached to it, or was instrumental in some life changing event or inspiration. I have some books that I find my self picking up specific books over and over again to read during difficult, stressful or emotional times, these books to me are like old friends, many of them I know the stories so well it is a comfort, I think it is because they have a story or character that resonates with my current state of being or situation. That these books have a message or lesson I need to remember from the stories, or it is a book that puts me in a good place, like a chat with an old friend. (I guess I get from fiction, what many would turn to self help books or motivational books for.)

Jo said...

I certainly agree with the re-reading of things like Wheel of Time. I recently did that once Brandon Sanderson started finishing off the series. I will have to do that once the George R.R. Martin books are finished, I have become totally lost in those.

No sure about other reasons though. Will have to think about it some more.

Glenda Larke said...

I agree with 2paw, there is a joy in discovering new things about an already-read book. But for me, I rarely find anything new in a third reading -- yet there are books that I can't even remember how many times I've read them!

What Followyourmuse says ("I guess I get from fiction, what many would turn to self help books or motivational books for") really resonates with me. I dislike motivational books, but I'm always finding things to think about and ponder on in novels. I learn so much from fiction -- even fantasy or medieval fiction! -- that is relevant to me, personally.

Jo said...

Just posted it on tomorrow's blog.

Helen V. said...

I keep and reread books that I fall in love with. They have to have something about them that speaks about the human condition, be well-written and must make me think so that every time I read them they expand my ideas. Language is very important. My favourite rereads all have some special quality in the writing. It can be lyrical or poetic or draw on that special skill where the author is able to conjure up images and details, making the world the story is set in and its characters real and so drawing me in to it.

Glenda Larke said...

Ah, Helen, if only I could distil that "special quality" and take a sip every morning before writing...

Satima Flavell said...

Your entire oeuvre is on my Keeper shelf, Glenda, along with that of Juliet Marillier and almost all of Guy Gavriel Kay. And, of course Song of Ice and Fire - but, like you, I've stopped reading them until the series is complete. (I am cheating, though, by watching the HBO videos, which are excellent, so I don't forget the earier ones completely.)

I also have some fave stand alones such as Ursula Leguin's Left Hand of Darkness and Mary Stewart's The Crystal Cave, which I will never part with in hard copy. However,I am turning more and more to e-books for new purchases as space is at a premium in my 'studio apartment' (AKA 'bedsit'.)

But I am no wiser than you in figuring out WHY! How come I love some books and re-read them every few years? My Keepers are all fantasy or fictionalised bios/autobios, but even so, the Keepers only represent a fraction of the books I've read in those genres over the years.

It's a Mystery. We could found a religion on the strength of it.