Friday 25 July 2014

The Joy of Rereading

Up until earlier this year, I'd pretty much stopped rereading books. There were plenty of reasons for this, but the main was simply a lack of time, and an overabundance of books. (People who say that you can never have too many books, I kind of agree with you, but if you take a look in my flat you may come to a different conclusion.)

Then I went through a real reading slump, and couldn't find anything I liked that would bring me out of it. In desperation, I turned to Have A Little Faith by Candy Harper, and Undeniable by Liz Bankes, and found that reading these for the second time actually managed to kickstart my reading again.

So what is it about rereading that had that effect on me? I think it's a combination of things - firstly, those two books in particular are such warm and funny reads that I'd completely fallen in love with them the first time around, and reading them again brought back memories of this, reminding me that there'd been a time not that long ago (in the case of Undeniable, I think it was only a month or  two prior to this that I'd first read it) that I had absolutely adored reading. This happens perhaps even more when rereading books I'd loved as a child, particularly things like the Jennings series, which hold huge sentimental value to me as my dad used to read them to both me and my sister, and he's still a massive fan of them.

Secondly, I don't feel I have to read them the same way. When I'm reading a book that I might review - which probably describes the vast majority of my 'new reads', as I'll generally have the intention of writing about something if I love it, even if I don't end up getting around to it - I feel compelled to concentrate really closely on it, to try and make sure I'm thinking about strengths and weaknesses as I go along. When rereading, especially a book I've already reviewed, I'm far happier to flick through, skim read parts I don't enjoy as much (not that there ARE any parts in those two I don't love, to be fair), and generally not feel the need to concentrate as closely.

Thirdly, I think rereading when you know what's happening gives you a completely different perspective on a book. This is particularly true of Undeniable, where there's a relatively big revelation fairly late on. In the context of this reveal, some things from earlier in the book read very differently, and it's intriguing to see! Similarly, Daniel Abraham wrote a year or two back that he didn't think spoilers could destroy a story. I'm currently rereading his epic fantasy sequence The Dagger and The Coin in preparation for book four's upcoming release, and while it's too amazingly strong a series for anything to destroy it, I think you definitely get a massively changed experience reading it knowing what's coming. It's fascinating to see how well he sows the seeds for the character development of Geder and Cithrin, in particular, in the early books, knowing what happens to them. Despite this, I'm still very glad I had the thrill of being taken by surprise on my initial reading!

I've started rereading far more since this happened, and I'm really enjoying it. Apart from the books mentioned above, most of the ones I've taken to going back to are childhood favourites, but there's a few more recent ones I'm eager to reread as well. See below for a couple of lists.

How about you? Do you reread much, or do you concentrate on new books? What are your favourites to reread, or books that you really want to read again?

My favourite books to reread:

1. Have A Little Faith by Candy Harper - I've now read this four times in under a year, the third in preparation for the sequel, and the fourth because I was stuck on a train with nothing else to do, a bunch of books I'd already read, and no battery to read e-books (the joys of unexpected six hour journeys!) It is STILL marvellous fourth time around!

2. The Burglar series by Lawrence Block - I think comic books often work better when rereading than serious ones do, so this gets the nod over Block's equally superb Matt Scudder series. Bernie, a bookseller/burglar who ends up solving crimes with the help of his friend Caroline and detective Ray, the best cop money can buy, is a wonderful narrator. It helps that my memory is so terrible I quite often can't remember whodunnit even if it's the third time I'm reading it!

3. Three Men In A Boat by Jerome K Jerome - Jerome's meandering story of three men, and a dog, on a trip along the Thames is utterly outstanding, however many times you read it.

4. The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald - I may have mentioned I rarely like dark books, but despite that, this is one of my very favourites ever. Showing the dark side of the American dream, it's a gorgeous novel which simply sings in its lyrical prose.

5. Jennings series by Anthony Buckeridge - Fossilised fishhooks, I could never leave a series like this out! As I said, this has sentimental value, but it's also a stunningly funny, consistently excellent series.

6. Drina series by Jean Estoril - I read the entire series in a few months last year, finishing the final book in Red Lion Square where the Dominick School is located for most of the books. Still probably my single favourite reading experience since moving to London!

7. Jeeves and Wooster series by PG Wodehouse - The repetitiveness of the plots doesn't bother me, because really, who reads, or rereads, these for the plots? Instead, every time I pick one up, I'm pulled into Wodehouse's unparalleled prose, which never fails to raise a smile.

8. Undeniable by Liz Bankes - As mentioned above, this is a stunning read which you look at from a different perspective after the first time. Gaby is one of my favourite narrators for ages.

9.  Anything by Agatha Christie - As with Block, my hopeless memory is a big plus when reading Christie, especially since a lot of her books are ones I first read as a teen back in the Nineties!

10. Trebizon series by Anne Digby - I think that considering I was never that big a fan of the Trebizon books compared to other series I grew up reading like the Chalet School and Abbey Girls, Digby's books have perhaps aged rather better than many of the rest. It helps that they're incredibly short (I reread First Term earlier in this train journey and it only took about half an hour) but they're also warm stories about friendship with strong characters.)

Series I most want to reread

1. Harry Potter by JK Rowling

2. GONE by Michael Grant

3. Flappers by Jillian Larkin

4. Wereworld by Curtis Jobling

5. Gallagher Girls by Ally Carter


  1. Retreading is a thing I do for comfort. I can't read anything new at bed time because I'd never get to sleep. An old favourite soothes me. I've reread Harry Potter many times, since you mention it. Currently rereading The Mysterious Affair At Styles. I do remember whodunnit, but don't care. Sometimes you pick up something you ddn't notice first time " - clues the author put in, in crime fiction, so you can see the buildup. Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher novels I've read over and over, along with her Corinna Chapman mysteries. They're such good fun, again, I don't care that I know whodunnit.

  2. I definitely need to find more time for re-reading. I used to always reread when I didn't buy or receive any new books. Now I'm getting lots of new books, I often don't find time to reread and that makes me sad! Great post.

  3. I often hear bloggers talking about how they haven't re-read a single book since starting their blogs and I used to be one of these people. However, over the past few months I've been trying to re-read at least one book per month and I'm really enjoying it. So far I've read Adorkable which I loved even more the second time round, and The Other Countess by Eve Edwards which I must have read around ten times now - it will never get old!

    Great post, Jim!

  4. Great post - I tend to re-read when no other book is quite doing anything for me, lately I've been re-reading Roald Dahl as they never let me down :)