Why Reread Books? The Pros and Cons of Rereading

A Well-loved Book

Rereading is a guilty pleasure for many people. Patricia Meyer Spacks calls it a “sinful self-indulgence” in her book On Rereading (14). How can a dedicated reader abandon their “To Be Read” pile (TBR), full of new stories waiting to be discovered, and waste time with a book they already know? At the same time, the act of rereading has been heralded by academics throughout history as the only way to truly understand a text. When confronted by someone who has “read that book a dozen times,” the serious reader feels a twinge of inferiority.

An examination of the pros and cons of rereading should be undertaken to appreciate its worth and, perhaps, therefore to alleviate the uncomfortable feelings in either situation.

The Benefits of Rereading

Why reread? The answers are as numerous as the reasons for reading a book the first time, enjoyment chief among them. However, rereading can also give the reader a sense of comfort in the stability and unchanging nature of a story or nostalgia as it brings back beloved memories. It can even be a social experience when rereading a story to relate to someone reading it for their first time.

Understanding Complexities

Francis Osborne

Academics most often discuss the benefit of rereading as a way to gain better understandings of complex texts and of the self.

Teachers of early reading-age children agree with foreign language teachers that rereading improves comprehension beyond basic words, to understanding what is happening, to appreciating details, and finally to taking analytic steps (Perez, Foreign). For adults, especially in the academic environment, rereading is indispensable to understanding a text well enough to build good critical arguments. This is so important that works of literature have occasionally been defined as such by their re-readability.

Vladimir Nabokov wrote in his Lectures On Literature,

“When we read a book for the first time the very process of laboriously moving our eyes from left to right, line after line, page after page, this complicated physical work upon the book, the very process of learning in terms of space and time what the book is about, this stands between us and artistic appreciation.”

Rereading is necessary to build a greater understanding of a text than can be accomplished on a first reading. Without rereading, it may be impossible to appreciate a writer’s more subtle talents or to comprehend a text’s intricate ideas and themes.

Lewis Buzbee

Understanding the Self

Rereading is also an act of self-reflection. Spacks writes, “The enterprise of purposeful rereading in itself creates a kind of self-consciousness” (242). Since the book itself never changes, it can function as a constant against which to measure the reader’s growth. Spacks explains, “The stability of reread books helps to create a solid sense of self….it records both the development and the continuity of the self” (4). Rereading, then, can be a way to re-examine the self and the changes it has undergone since the initial reading.

The Drawbacks of Rereading   

However, there are possible drawbacks to rereading as well. Rereading is time consuming—drawing readers away from their TBR piles—and can be disappointing if a beloved book falls short of rosy memory. It can also be uncomfortable to re-examine oneself by rereading a book, to realize the changes you have undergone. Furthermore, some things may be lost in a rereading and increased comprehension is not necessarily assured.

Carl Deuker

The Gain-loss Phenomenon

David Galef proposes in his book Second Thoughts the Gain-Loss Phenomenon of rereading: the fact that some things can only be experienced in a first reading and are lost in subsequent ones. He writes, “The standard view is that rereading is an additive process, wherein we perceive more and more about a given work until we have internalized the very words. However, such continual review also dulls certain sensibilities” (Galef 18). Among these sensibilities are the effects of plot, such as suspense, and spontaneity (Galef 19). Emotions like pleasure, excitement, and curiosity cause the reader to rush through a story and pass over the subtle intricacies appreciated in re-readings, and yet they are also important elements that may be dulled by those subsequent readings.

Increase Familiarity ≠ Increased Comprehension

Furthermore, unless your rereading is focused and intentional about gaining new insights, rereading may not result in improving understanding. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press published an article in 2014 which criticized rereading as a study strategy since it “often involves a kind of unwitting self-deception, as growing familiarity with the text comes to feel like mastery of the material” (quoted Weimer). This applies to rereading literature as well. Someone who has read a book a dozen times may not have a more nuanced understanding of the text than someone who has only read it once or twice, but was intentional about gaining—and retaining—their understanding with each reading.

Why Reread?

Viggo Mortensen with a copy of The Return of the King

So why bother rereading if there are such drawbacks? It is important to keep in mind that Galef’s gain-loss phenomenon is different for each book and each reader. A mystery may lose suspense—or a short story’s twist ending, the element of surprise—but gain anticipation in a reread. While Galef points out that this is not necessarily an equitable exchange, the right reader may find it more enjoyable experiencing the story with the end in mind (19). William Faulkner’s works might be difficult to understand, even in a second or third (or even fourth) reading, but for the right reader that challenge is part of the entertainment.

There is inherent value in rereading, but that value is subjective. If choosing to reread to increase comprehension of subtler, complex artistry, be intentional about gaining more from a text than mere familiarity. If rereading for pleasure, keep in mind the elements of a story that give you joy, and be aware of which elements may be lost in a reread.

No reader should feel less accomplished because they neglect their TBR pile to reread a favorite or if they only reread once in a blue moon. Each has its own pleasures.

Works Cited

Foreign Language Teaching Methods. “Lesson 3: The Importance of Rereading.” Utexas. coerll.utexas.edu/methods/modules/reading/03/. Accessed on 7 Sept. 2016.

Galef, David. Second Thoughts: A Focus on Rereading. Wayne State University Press, 1998.

Perez, Samuel A. “Rereading to Enhance Text Understanding in the Secondary Classroom.” Reading Horizons, vol. 30, no. 1, 1989, scholarworks.wmich.edu/reading_horizons. Accessed on 7 Sept. 2016.

Spacks, Patricia Meyer. On Rereading. Harvard University Press, 2013.

Weimer, Maryellen, PhD. “Is Rereading the Material a Good Study Strategy?” Faculty Focus, 14 May 2014, www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/rereading-material-good-study-strategy/. Accessed on 7 Sept. 2016.

Further Reading

Ernest Hemingway on Writing by Ernest Hemingway

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman

Lectures On Literature by Vladimir Nabokov

Lectures to My Students by Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Making It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by P.C. Brown, H.L. Roediger III, and M. A. McDaniel (esp. chapters 1-2)

On Re-reading Novels by Virginia Woolf

On Stories: And Other Essays in Literature by C.S. Lewis

“On the Influence of Re-reading on Mind Wandering” Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology (DOI: 10.1080/17470218.2015.1107109)

The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs

Rereadings: Seventeen Writers Revisit Books They Love by Anne Fadiman

“Why Reread? Evidence from the garden-path and local coherence structures” Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology (DOI: 10.1080/17470218.2016.1186200)

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. Allie Anton

    Interesting observations: I believe it was C.S. Lewis who said that you haven’t really read a book if you’ve only read it once (or something to that effect). I think much of the value of rereading depends also on the book itself. If it’s a “classic,” among the greatest ever written, then rereading only peels back the layers of meaning and depth that can’t be captured on a first read. Something like “The Babysitter’s Club,” though, while it might bring up some warm and fuzzy nostalgia, but rereading in adulthood only proves how shallow it is. Still, I think even those sorts of books are with rereading (or skimming)–it would at least prevent you from recommending it to someone else.

    • I used to not re-read. I’m not a fast reader and I figured there are too many books to read.

  2. Kira Veal

    I actively re-read. Often it’s because I want to revisit a particular scene or an emotion that a particular book evoked. Sometimes it’s about the comfort of something familiar…I don’t have to mentally invest in the world-building because I already know it, so can just sit back and relax.

  3. I often reread mystery books. If I give it enough time, I will have forgotten who did it, allowing me to read with the proper suspense again.

  4. Floóor

    I grew up reading everything from Greek mythology to Enid Blyton and some books (Jack Kerouac, Evelyn Waugh, etc) struck a particular chord in me at certain times in my life and I’m sure that I will never recapture those same feelings by re-reading those books – and I won’t re-read them because I want to retain that original feeling forever and not be disappointed.

  5. CAmpaign

    If I book is really good, I will re-read it. How often I reread it depends on how good it is.

  6. I re-read books, sometimes many times over. It’s just like watching your favorite movie over and over. I naturally read very fast so I miss out on occasional details that I discover when I read them again.

  7. There are books that were such a wonderful experience to read.

  8. I read Gone With the Wind the first time in my teens. I read it again every few years. It is a good ‘feel good’ book for me.

  9. Jaleesa

    I will occasionally reread books from my childhood to recapture that feeling of being 10 or 12.

  10. Kacy Blakely

    My reading is mainly non-fiction/reference books which I am happy to re-read if I need to refresh my memory on a particular subject.

  11. I love to re-read a book because I feel like I pick up on subtle nuances with each read. Sometimes my own mood or experiences will influence the way I interpret symbols or inferences.

  12. Sean Gadus

    Hi, this is a really interesting article! It seems that there are both advantages and disadvantages to rereading and you clearly illustrate both sides. I enjoyed the reading list you added at the end of the article. It is a great addition to the article.

  13. I think it’s obvious that the desire to re-read a book should come and be fulfilled naturally. We shouldn’t read something again just because it’s considered to be a good practice. If you really feel like your reading emotions will stay as vivid as the first time, or even deepen, and if you really feel like that book that has enlightened you can open your eyes even more when you read it again – if you feel that way, then do it. After all, they do say that we only see or hear what we are ready to perceive at the monet, so later, in different circumstances, at a different age you may see things there which you did not notice before. But to force oneself to re-read is rather dull and, most probably that not, fruitless. A book is not the multiplication table, it is not to be revised just for the sake of repetition itself or learning by heart.

    There’s also one, I’d say, anxious thing about not only re-reading but also reading for the first time, in general: often we decide to read something not because we’re drawn to it but because somebody said that having read this or that book will add extra points to one’s erudition image or coolness level or ‘how-come-have-you-not-read-it-yet-everybody-must-read-it’ 🙂

    What i want to say is, there will always be pros and there will always be cons, but we can lose our minds if we’re going to follow every must-do and evaluate each recommendation naggingly. As the author stated in the end, we shouldn’t feel less accomplished if we don’t do this or that 🙂

    I believe that – except for some emergency situations, probably – nothing else but genuine curiosity and intuition should govern our decision-making, no matter if it’s about choosing your career or just picking a book to read 🙂

  14. I was just thinking about rereading a book. It takes me months or sometimes years to consider reading one particular book. I reread to refresh my memory because I never remember exactly what happens, but mostly to experience the journey, not one of reading but the characters.

  15. Marybelle Km.

    I don’t re-read books, but I’m simply like that for most types of media.

  16. I usually re-read two to three books a year on top of whatever else I read. I think re-reading can be just as exciting and illuminating as reading it the first time especially if you are in a different time or place in your life, because books are just as much about what you take from them as what is actually in them. And as we grow and have new experiences and our tastes change, what we take from books will likely change as well. And then there are just some books that blew me away or I enjoyed so much that I had to reread it right away or relatively soon.

  17. I most commonly reread books when I have a new book out in a series I enjoy (then I reread the whole series from the beginning) or when I’m feeling especially depressed and/or anxious and need to calm down/receive comfort. The books I reread most commonly/frequently are: the Anita Blake series by Laurell K. Hamilton; Absolutely, Positively by Jayne Ann Krentz; Getting Rid of Bradley by Jennifer Crusie; Manhunting, also by Jennifer Crusie; A Little Fate by Nora Roberts; and A Little Magic, also by Nora Roberts. The aforementioned five stand-alones are also my go-to books for those rare occasions when I’m in a reading slump and nothing appeals.

    I only buy books that I love enough to reread. I have quite the collection!

  18. Re-reading my favorite books, especially series books, is like visiting old friends.

  19. I can see both sides of this coin. I think it depends upon what is being read and the purpose for which it is read. For me, difficult technical material that it is crucial to absorb may require one or more rereads, particularly if I lose focus or am distracted. I only reread for entertainment if it is something I particularly enjoyed but read so long ago, I have forgotten many of the details and would just like to revisit the experience. I think rereading is a matter of preference and/or necessity and should be the decision of the reader.

  20. shugo828

    I have always found that a major pro for re-reading books is that when one does re-read, the book always seems different. This is due to the changes that have occurred in our life since we first read this book and so we have a new perspective regarding even the smallest issue.

  21. Books can be very different each to you read them as YOU are different each time you read them. Different moments or themes will stick out to you than what did in the past etc.

  22. Easterling

    Re reading the books brings back some involuntary memories and we voluntarily crave for them.

  23. I re-read books all of the time (e.g. LoTR, HP, Narnia & favorite authors). It’s amazing how many new things you can discover that you may have missed before or see a new perspective of a concept you hadn’t recognized the first go around.

  24. Shila Rapp

    I read rather quickly so I think re-reading lets me pick up on things I may have sped over the first (20th) time. Comfort is definitely the main reason.

  25. As someone who is “guilty” of rereading novels I find this article very interesting. Not in the sense that I reread with the intention of gaining further information but in fact , I reread to relive to experience and reconstruct images and scenery in my mind.

  26. kyletsakiris

    Some thoughts of my own:

    As largely someone who reads predominately non-fiction, and philosophy books at that, re-reading is an indispensable part of my education. The best philosophical works are those that we go back to time and again (think Plato’s “Republic”), finding subtle differences in the arguments of a certain philosopher or thinker, and how we interact with them with each new reading.

    For example, in re-reading Plato’s “Republic” a second time, I found myself less likely to agree with Plato then I did the first time after I was able to read thinkers like Aristotle, Hannah Arendt, Karl Marx, or John Rawls (who all mulled over concerns pertaining to “justice”). Even so, the questions that were raised in the “Republic” by Plato still remain as relevant today as they did centuries ago.

    Re-reading fiction has never been something I particularly enjoyed. One reading through the “Lord of the Rings” series for me was enough, The suspense, the beauty of the prose, and the development of the characters never seemed to strike me as emotionally as it did the first time.

    Be that as it may, re-reading can be an integral part of our self-education and our ability to formulate reasonable arguments and responses ourselves to the questions that authors raise in the first place. I love the bit about how re-reading can be an exercise in self-reflection, to see where our sentiments, ideas, and beliefs have changed over a period of time.

    “Be careful, however, lest this reading of many authors and books of every sort may tend to make you discursive and unsteady. You must linger among a limited number of master-thinkers, and digest their works, if you would derive ideas which shall win firm hold in your mind. Everywhere means nowhere. When a person spends all his time in foreign travel, he ends by having many acquaintances, but no friends. And the same thing must hold true of men who seek intimate acquaintance with no single author, but visit them all in a hasty and hurried manner.” – Seneca, “Letters from a Stoic”

  27. Jonathan Judd

    Excellent piece, the fast pace flow from pro to con and back really kept the read enjoyable. It would be interesting, I think, to add a personal encounter that you have had with reading/re-reading, perhaps it allowed you to find a new critical purpose for a text. I find that reading the works of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir allow me continued understanding of their complex philosophies and my own evolving concept of angst and freedom.

  28. Although I really love reading, I’ve always felt my reading comprehension and memory are so high I don’t need to reread, and therefore I don’t need to spend money on books that I could get from the library. My home bookshelf, therefore, is filled with gifts from childhood birthdays and Christmases. Rereading, for me, is innately tied to the sensation of having the physical book in my hands. Maybe it’s a generational thing.
    As a youngster, I tried to collect all 100 or so of the Boxcar Children books, not because I expected to reread all of them or even enjoy any of them as I grew up, but because owning the physical things felt like an accomplishment. (Why does anyone collect anything, after all?)
    My favorite books that I own are the Complete H.P. Lovecraft and the Complete Sherlock Holmes. They’re both old-fashioned hardcover bricks, and I expect to enjoy the experience of reading and, once I finish, rereading them. It won’t be for increased comprehension of complexities or understanding myself, though. It’ll just be for the nostalgia of where and when I got the physical books and the sensation of holding them again.

  29. Brittanie

    I reread books often! I find rereading books expands the mind. It allows me to experience something different each time. That’s the best part about books is being able to get something different out of them each time. Some things catch my eye one time but something opposite next time!

  30. I had a professor in graduate school who reread every book before she taught them each semester, and she confessed there was always something new for her to discover in excellent literature. She wrote her dissertation on Edith Wharton more than thirty years ago, but was as invigorated and thrilled to teach a seminar on Wharton to graduate students as she was when she first discovered her writing. To this end, I’d say the answer to your question is that rereading is essential, but it also demands that the text be of a high enough quality to offer complexity for good readers. This is where the argument gets murkier, because the elitists get to pick the canon, and they often leave out writers whom they deem unworthy as a group (feel free to pick any minority group/gender and place them here). Still, avid readers are a great group to consult for recommendations on quality, and as the number of students studying literature dwindle, expanding the boundaries of “acceptable” narratives is probably a better direction than declaring that literature is dead or inane or unworthy of rereading.

    Also: what about rereading for comfort? I find certain books call to me when I need to experience a feeling, and it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve read it. I know it is reliable. I’m unashamed of my penchant for certain kinds of genre fiction, simply because I want to “hang out” in the day-to-day constructed world it offers. Anyone who reads Harry Potter wants to taste pumpkin juice, go into the common room and sit by the fire, or take a walk around the lake as much as they want adventure. To some this might be the only reason they reread, and they should feel validated too.

  31. A book with complexity will offer up different meaning throughout one’s lifetime.

  32. i read hemingway’s sun also rises 3x. at first, i hated the character of lady brett and thought she was superficial. upon later readings, i felt sympathy for her. that book lends itself to multiple readings.

  33. I adore reading. Always have and always will. My mom ran a library in our basement when I was growing up in Philadelphia and throughout the very worst times I remained faithful to the written word. My love of reading has served me well. I was the first member of my family to get a BA. I was also the first to get a MA. Did have the good sense to drop out of my PhD program when told my research WOULD NOT pass the IRB’s. No regrets. I am retired on disability and read 3 to 5 books a week. Read bios and fiction, mostly, but also return to favorite writers from Colette to Joyce Carol Oates. Nothing beats curling up on the couch on a rainy afternoon with a cup of coffee and a great read!

  34. I just took a course “Intro to Literature” and had to read Wuthering Heights. I liked the book and may later reread it..since I will get more out of it if I can read it for “pleasure” and not because I have to. I didn’t read it as a child..It looked too thick and boring. Just proves you can’t judge a book by its cover…

  35. I like to think of books I reread as old friends. There are some authors who require several readings to really understand the book, or whose writing is so complex that you can enjoy it on different levels.

  36. Fascinating to hold the pros and cons of rereading next to each other. However, I feel, obviously completely from my own personal view, that the two don’t hold the same weight as one another. The pros far outweigh the cons. If one of the few cons is seeing change within oneself, is that even really all that bad? With that, I’m glad to see the well argued article end with the fact that this is a rather subjective topic.

  37. John McCracken

    I actually really resonated with “The Gain-Loss Phenomenon” and it’s focus on sensibilities being dulled. I am always concerned that my immediate or involved joy in reading a book will be lost if I explore it again. and I recently reread some of the first Harry Potter novels in the wake of the franchise’s re-purposed excitement. I unfortunately was kind of devastated to found out that my love for the series has dulled over time, but this is something that comes with the act of reading. I believe that we find joys in the moments of reading and sometimes we should leave those books closed, but that is just me.

    I do also believe that it is different for different genres or forms of literature. I always reread poetry or short fiction to push more and more out of the smaller texts, which is something I think that comes for those art forms. I don’t often reread novels or longer texts because once you get through a storyline or know a motive of a character, there seems to be less that can surprise you.

  38. I read so many big science fiction books at a young age. As an adult, I’ve gone back and reread books like the Hyperion series and realized he emotional subtleties I missed as a teenager. When reading books for research in the field of dance, I read first with an open mind and then again with a specific question in mind. The questions become organic because my first impression of the text is helping to guide my quest.

  39. Very insightful. I have always usually read a book once and never thought about rereading it again. This is a very informational piece.

  40. When I first learned to read, I read as many new books as I could. Especially when I started to read longer and more complex texts, as the characters and the story world seemed so alive; however, I noticed that when I reached high school, my desire to discover new stories ebbed, and I more frequently reread the books that made me feel complex emotions in my youth. For me, when I read the last page of a novel or a series, its tragic because I know that the characters will never change. They immediately become lifeless. I would reread to try and bring life back to the story, but it never really worked. Very interesting read. Thanks.

  41. In my experience, there are always moments in books that are newly discovered when re-reading. In many cases, reading a book for the first time — especially if it is a highly anticipated one — can be a rushed thing; excitement on behalf of the reader clouding the smaller, more nuanced parts of the story. I find that once the text has been concluded, and the anxiousness of finding out the ending has dissolved, it allows for a more leisurely read-through, and so many small things that one might have skipped over in the first read can be brought to light! I always love rereading books, and return to my favorites as a sort of comfort every now and again. Wonderful article!

  42. Lexzie

    Interesting article. I find myself being selective in my re-reading of books depending on how much I enjoyed it the first time and how interested I am in the topic. More often than not, the books I do re-read are novels I read when I was younger.

  43. After reading this I feel that I should re-read more. It’s almost why we re-watch movies for better comprehension and understanding the signs for a twist that comes at the end. I believe that a well written book requires you to read it again.

  44. I have found that rereading a novel or book I first had to read for a class or school requirement can often bring new perspectives. Especially when it isn’t forced. The insights from the old class discussion are often revisited although with new personal experience, they bring added or challenging perspectives. It can make for a fun and interesting experience.

  45. There are several books in my personal library that I have read multiple times. They are books that I connected with on a deep level, and I re-read them to capture that feeling again. Recently, however, I read a book that I had been claiming was my all-time favorite for about 20 years. It had also been about 20 years since I read it. So when I realized half way through the book that the heroine was whiney and self-indulgent, I suddenly realized that I had probably been whiney and self-indulgent when I was reading the book as a young woman. My life experiences had altered my idea of how a romantic heroine should behave. The book is still beloved to me, my dog is named after one of the main characters after all, but I recognize the limitations of the book.
    Meanwhile, as a grad student, I find that the first read through is never enough. I find myself vaguely aware of what is happening after the first read through and intimately connected to the book after re-reading passages during a critical analysis of the work.
    So maybe read once for pleasure but prepare to need to read and read passages of a book for academic study or literary criticism.

  46. I frequently reread books, particularly the classics. I find that I take away something new from a book every time I read it. When I stop learning something new from a book, is when I will stop reading it. At least for a little while…

  47. rereading lets you capture things you missed the first time around!

  48. L.J.

    Rereading as a way to re-examine the self appears to be one of the most valuable things when taking a an old book from the shelf. The comforting feeling while revisiting places that were stored away in memory seems to be of great value when rereading books from ones childhood. Depending on the publishing date, the country, and the overall development one took, rereading a beloved children’s book can yield an unknown appreciation for the author, and for the story itself. The inevitable changes that one undergoes from first opening a book to returning to the story not only produces an affirmation, but also enables a reflection on the characters, the choice of words, the style of writing, and an overall evolution in the understanding of a book.

  49. to reread is to refresh.

  50. Really liked one of the last things you said, about how Galef’s ideas are subjective to the genre and to the reader. I see many parallels between this and the whole “spoiler” phenomenon. I would be willing to guess that those who are very much proponents of rereading wouldn’t be as bothered by a potential “spoiler” as those who value first-time reading.

  51. Stephanie M.

    I have an entire shelf of favorite books I reread semi-frequently. While there are no surprises–after all, I know the story–it is comforting to reread my favorites. I also enjoy rereading because I already know each author of a favorite book has put effort into crafting the story. I know the writing is good, and that it’s going to keep me entertained.

    I also like what the article’s author says about discovering self through rereading. Sometimes I’ll reread something and think, “Oh, I missed the author saying that last time. This could easily be applied to real life.” For instance, reading a Jane Austen novel the first time gives me the entertainment of a good Regency novel. The second time through, I might be more in tune to Austen’s comments on emotion vs. practicality, or how to tell a true gentleman from a creep.

  52. This makes sense to me, as each book contains its own complexities that you have to re-read to understand. However, for me it takes a truly phenomenal read to bring me back for a second read through.

  53. Great points on both sides. Rereading is great regardless in my opinion.

  54. Rereading certainly does have both benefits and draw-backs, but I think it really depends on the book and why the reader is choosing to go back. Obviously, for academic purposes rereading text is essential but if you are not rereading for academic purposes I believe it completely depends on the reader. I too have an extremely large TBR pile, but there are certain books that I read once a year, no matter how large that pile. These are books that have touched me in my life and draw me back in time and time again. There are also books that I personally have returned to that are not annual reads for me, but stories that I need at different points in life. Rereading a beloved novel is like having dinner with a dear friends, always in good taste.

  55. Chrissy

    I often have the desire to reread a book, and there’s typically a 50/50 chance on whether I like it more or less. Sometimes I play up the scenes too much the first time, but after the second read, the suspense falls flat and my opinion lessens. However, rereading can also allow me to recognize more foreshadowing, symbolism (my favorite), or other devices the author adds in.
    Another con for me is that I could be using the time rereading a book to read a new book!

  56. I reread because I’m trying to memorise the entirety of the Harry Potter series.

  57. This was a really interesting article! I pretty much don’t reread my books because I have such a large to-read list plus knowing the plot in advance isn’t as fun for me

  58. As someone who has reread the Harry Potter series numerous times, I think that rereading is a wonderful experience. In books such as HP, it can be so interesting to discover new layers or phrases or nuances that you just missed the first time or two around. Additionally, I think that rereading is a crucial part to understanding a text. In the case of writers, the best way to go is to read something once for the experience and then read again for the details – go back and read like a writer.

    Personally, I think that rereading is crucial to an in-depth understanding of plot, symbolism, and authorial decisions at work.

  59. Benjamin Potts

    I am a chronic re-reader of books that I love, but low-quality books I often read once and then never again–or I get halfway through, am dismayed that I have wasted my life in such a manner, and switch to something else. The Lord of the Rings, for example, I had to reread a few times just to get through it–I was bogged down halfway through the first book, then again halfway through the second, then finally managed to tough it out through book three. Tolkien’s writing is very high-level stuff, and I took something different out of the book each time. High-level writing is like that–the reread becomes more about you than about the book, about the different places that you the reader are coming from. You catch things that you missed the first time around and realize how much you have learned in the intervening time. For me, this is one of the most important purposes of rereading: how have I grown such that my experience of this book is different than the first time?

  60. Noelle McNeill

    I find myself rereading classic literature often. It’s a chance not only to go over a good story again, but I find the more I read by authors such as Fitzgerald and Austen, the more I realize subtle nuances and dialogue in unique ways.

  61. When a book is well-written, it is often worth rereading again, as the author may have included details that may have been missed the first time. For example, when I reread the Harry Potter series, I picked up on details that were important later in the book. It is was very insightful to observe how Rowling managed to keep all of the elements in her book straight.

  62. I rarely get to reread books, but due to my job (bookseller) I have found there to be a range of books that I’ve forgotten I loved. Rereading when the story becomes relevant to you again can be of son benefit, I will read over chapters of ‘Big Magic’ by Elizabeth Gilbert. During moments of creative blocks its a great way to refresh my head. That said I can appreciate that a story you loved at age 10 may seem juvenile when you’re 20 no matter how much nostalgia you attach to it.

  63. There are a few books that I attempted to reread. They are my spiritual or self-help books. I feel so full because of the (aha!) moments that I experience that I want to reread the book. Over the years, I began highlighting sections of the book if the idea or topic resonated with me. Now, I start at the beginning of those highlighted books and just skim through and read all of what I highlighted. I feel accomplished that I’ve captured the essence of the book. When I read fiction, I ponder on the emotion that comes along with the good read, and then I sort of revisit specific sections of the book in my head. This recording in my mind and heart is enough for me. I normally don’t reread fiction. Good article.

  64. DJ

    I love re-reading! I always catch concepts and hidden plotlines that I didn’t notice before, great article!

  65. I transferred schools after the fifth grade, and one of the first books we read in my sixth grade English class had been one I read the year before at my old school. When I mentioned it to my teacher, she said “Well, good! You’ll pick up on more than your classmates. I love rereading.” That’s always stuck with me, and the older I get and the less time I have to read for fun, I appreciate it more and more.

  66. To me, re-reading has a certain value in that the reader can look for pieces that they might have missed during their first read. I personally love re-reading for nostalgia’s sake, too.

  67. Rereading my favorite books is like getting to relive memories in real time. I absolutely love it and have a few share of books I always manage to reread.

  68. I always re-read novels when I want to sit down and enjoy a book that particularly resonated with me. My most re-read books are The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, because of my love for the worlds and the fiction but also because of the immediate sense of nostalgia and memory it stirs. I think re-reading books can be incredibly rewarding and do it regularly with ones I love. Good topic and good article!

  69. There have been books that I have re-read immediately after finishing the first read, others I’ve returned to years after having read them for the sheer nostalgia of it and some I reread constantly deriving as much pleasure for the nth time as on the first. Rereading is very subjective, some books are woth the trouble, some not.

  70. kristinagreta

    I have always loved reading, but I find that sadly, before moving to England, I never met a teacher willing to explain analysis of a literary piece to me, thus most of my early reading was based on sole enjoyment. I had to re-read a piece to notice detail, whereas now I find that I notice many more even as I read somebody’s work for the first time. It is brilliant to see just how much depth there can be found in one’s writing!

  71. I enjoy re-reading books, you seem to find things you missed the previous time you read that book

  72. I do not re-read often but re-read the books I truly love. I am, however, an avid movie re-watcher. I think a lot of these same pro’s and con’s can be applied to movie re-watching as well.

  73. I actively re-read books in a series. First for enjoyment, second to criticize, and then later readings just so I can understand what is going on. I believe that some books are made specifically for re-reading purposes. Anything taking place in the Malazan world created by Steven Erikson and Ian C. Esselmont deserves more than one read.

  74. Ben Woollard

    I would agree with others comments that say a books rereading value really depends on the book. I find that there are a ton of books that can be well-digested in a single read, while others are nearly impossible to do so with. Some examples that come to mind are books like Ulysses, or Gravity’s Rainbow, which are works of such daunting and genius complexity that to really understand them requires a large amount of supplementary and close-reading, and have a potentially inexhaustible amount of artistic merit. That said, I think books such as Ulysses might be better read extremely carefully, rather than multiple times, although of course to do both would be ideal.

  75. In my opinion, you can avoid rereading simply by reading the last page before the first read.

  76. I have been a fan of rereading for much of my relatively short life. I never really considered the cons of rereading, and so that perspective was interesting for me to be exposed to. It didn’t change my opinion on rereading, as I felt your other arguments were engaging as well.

  77. JennyCardinal

    I had a Literature professor who admitted that she enjoys re-reading the books she assigns because she re-interprets motivations and scenarios, bringing more to her students’ learning and understanding. Re-reading allows us to see elements of writing and stories from various angles.

    And it’s always fun to revisit old friends.

  78. Dr Toula

    The benefits of rereading, in my opinion, far outweigh the drawbacks. This is particularly in relation to using novels and other reading material for self-study and reflection

  79. talorelien

    I personally enjoy re reading most often for the ways that I approach a book changing over time. Many not all, but many of the books I choose to reread are much more character driven, so the gain-loss is much lower from a twist ending or other surprise elements. I enjoy seeing how my perspectives change towards a book and the way that I may identify with different characters or different aspects as I change.

  80. LOVE that someone cared enough about this to write an article – I always thought there was something wrong with me for re-reading so often, so glad to know that there are people out there that do it to! I think it also depends on your reaction to the book for the first time – I loved Pride and Prejudice the first time and the ending is a happy one, so I’ve read it tens of times, but a series like Inkheart which I loved ended in an upsetting way so I haven’t wanted to re-experience that feeling! Also the kind of story definitely plays a part – if the plot relies on suspense, revelations, finding out who the culprit of a crime is, etc., this clearly won’t be accessible the second time around. But in a story like P&P and many Victorian novels the interesting bits are the minute details of conversations, witty exchanges, descriptions etc. so they remain available to the reader and deepen upon rereading.

  81. I’m iffy about rereading books, especially books for an age group you’ve outgrown. Sometimes you read a book at exactly the right moment in your life. Take the Percy Jackson series, for example. Rereading those books does nothing for me now, but when I first read them, I loved them. Those books meant a lot to me when I read them in middle school, but even now as the franchise continues, I’ve lost interest. I think rereading certain books can be incredibly useful, but you have to be careful which books you reread.

  82. I couldn’t count how many books I have reread! Loved this article and looking at the different perspectives. I think re-readers and single readers are polarities at either end of a continuum.

  83. bethlauren

    Very thought-provoking. Loved the point made that the person who has read a book 12 times does not necessarily comprehend it better than the person who has read it once or twice. It depends on the person and, I think, the purpose for reading.

  84. As someone who is extremely guilty of re-reading I actually found this article in some aspects very familiar and in others quite in comprehensive. I say guilty because the main reason for my re-reading is stress, and procrastination. Anyone who knows me will immediately understand that I am feeling anxious about something or in dire need of a reminder of a better time. I understand re-reading for the purposes of furthering ones knowledge, but for me it is purely pleasure. I could also argue that knowing what is about to happen in some ways increases suspense as you are waiting each page for your favourite character to die, or for the tear jerking confession of irrevocable love. Very thought provoking thanks !

  85. Love this article, I am a chronic re-reader. In terms of David Galef’s gain-loss phenomenon, for me that is the clinching consideration in deciding whether to re-read. Some adrenaline-fuelled books full of plot twists I have not re-read because I know the experience would be less than full. In contrast, I am always dawn back to re-reading whole books or certain sequences that I am sure will never lose their potency. I was just re-reading a chapter about a mid-war bush hike from one of the Tomorrow When the War Began books. I return to things like that because something about the vivid nature of the world and characters means that every time you cast your net back into the story, the catch is always the same (or better!). The integrity of those kinds of works will never be in danger. Thanks for the great article, it really makes you think about why we do return so often to the books we love!

  86. Sohini

    Despite the potential drawbacks, I think there is ultimately something to be gained with each reread of a book. Whether that’s increased or changed comprehension, or a trip down memory lane. When you’re reading, you’re gaining something, no matter how many times you may have thumbed the same pages before. And I think that’s quite lovely!

  87. Nothing wrong in rereading some books. As I get older I have set a goal to reread or read for the first time many of the books in my collection, the majority on Irish History. I just reread one last month I had dated as last read in May ’93. This time I definitely had a greater appreciation for the work and expect that will, hopefully, be an experience gained on further rereads. The classics never grow old,i.e. Animal Farm, Dubliners to name a few. Just finished reading a collection of short stories by Frank O’Connor that I bought twenty-fives years ago and somehow had never opened the cover. So, my point being, reading or rereading will always enhance the reader and give a satisfying feeling of accomplishment.

  88. Millie Hue

    I have a cousin who is such a bookworm, and I believe she keeps in rereading the books that she has already finished. I wonder why she does that. It seems that it is good for her and for anyone to do so because it gives a feeling of comfort and nostalgia to the memories that they have acquired in the novel. By the way, her birthday is also near, so I might just give her another book, and, hopefully, she reads it again by the time she finishes it.

  89. Maddison

    I reread all the time… sometimes too much. When I’m hooked on a book, sometimes I’ll reread it a few times in a row. I usually catch something I hadn’t seen the first time and, if it’s a good story, it will be worth it.

  90. Joseph Cernik

    A good essay. I believe in rereading books, although usually spread out several years apart. I have done with this Thucydides–and realize how I’m looking at it now contrasting with how I read it several years before. A question I consider basic is: What makes me see this work now different than how I saw it the last time I read it?

  91. Rea Roborgh

    I tear through books as dont like putting a good book down..years later hardly remember the story and great to reread as a whole new experience. ..sometimes like cjrcking in on an old friend

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