In Defense of Re-Reading Books

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“What books have you been reading lately?”

I considered. “I’ve been re-reading a bunch of books. Anne of Green Gables. The Secret Garden. The Chronicles of Narnia. A lot of children’s classics, I guess.”

Micah and Sarah Beth stared at me across the table. “Why would you re-read books?” Micah asked.

“Some books are just really good,” I said.

“Yes, but it’s never the same if you read it again.”

“True.”

To be honest, I didn’t quite know why re-reading was so important to me. It was just something I always did. I thought that the people who didn’t re-read were the weird ones.

It was Wednesday Morning Coffee Time (P.S. you’re still invited), and presently, Sarah Beth and I had to leave to pick up Ashley and go on our Portland expedition. I thought about books a lot that day. First, at Powell’s Books, I found many books I wanted to buy, all of which cost more than I could justify spending. At the subsequent thrift stores I looked for books but found nothing I really wanted.

Finally, at the Goodwill Outlet, I dug through the large bin of unwanted books. It was my last chance to find an affordable book. For some reason, I felt a strongly-tugging desire to leave Portland with a book in hand. And so I sifted through the bin, tossing aside paperback romances and beat-up textbooks, looking for something remotely good.

Just as I was about to give up and move on to the clothing bins, I saw it: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. I was so excited I nearly hyperventilated.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. One of the most well-written, creative, and unique modern books I’ve ever read. Besides that, it is a book for adults written with the creativity of a children’s book, which is depressingly rare. And it was at a discount Goodwill.

I left Portland with a warm lump of satisfaction in my heart. If I hadn’t read the book yet, I wouldn’t have felt the same feeling. An un-read book can always disappoint you the way that already-read books cannot.

“Is that the answer?” I asked myself. “Do I re-read books because they are a safe place that can’t disappoint me?”

When I got home I sat cross-legged on my bed and cracked open the volume. Reading the well-crafted witty writing was like hearing a brilliant song, and wondering how the creator of the content could have such unbelievable talent.

Maybe I re-read books for the same reason people look at a painting again and again, or crank up the same song every time it comes on the radio. There is a multifaceted loveliness to artwork that can’t be fully appreciated if you only experience it once.

I read up to the point where Mr. Segundus and Mr. Honeyfoot get a tour of Mr. Norrell’s library, and then put the book away for the night. I drifted off to sleep, imagining that I had Mr. Norrell’s library, or at least, something very like it. It was a wonderful thing to imagine.

That’s the real reason I re-read books, I guess. A book is like a magical wardrobe that leads to another world, and I want to go there again. Even if the same things happen each time I enter, I always want to go back.

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5 responses to “In Defense of Re-Reading Books

  1. I re-read books all the time. My favorites feel like old friends and I love visiting them again and again. Right now I’m enjoying the Anne of Green Gables series for the …. I have no idea what number I should put here …… time. The reason why I started reading them again this time was because we got the book, Before Green Gables, by Budge Wilson. It was really good, and written very similarly to how L.M. Montgomery would have written it.

    New books often feel slightly uncomfortable to me until I get acquainted with the characters. Kind of like being plopped in a roomful of strange people and the ice needs to be broken before friends can be made.

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  2. Amy Zimmerman

    I say if it’s not worth reading again, it probably wasn’t worth reading it the first time.

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  3. I guess I never considered that some people don’t re-read books. Until now I always assumed that is what readers do.

    Re-reading is comfort food. It’s what I do when I am discourage or sick. I go back and hang out with all my old friends.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sandra Miller

    I also reread books. My favorite one is “Home for Christmas” by Lloyd C. Douglas. I read it slowly, savoring the fun, the atmosphere of that family gathering. I have read this one so many times I have lost count. Yes, I will reread books at least twice…You are not odd, others are..lol

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  5. YES! That last paragraph was perfect!
    I have books that I’ve read embarrassing numbers of times. Only I’m not really embarrassed. I love going back and getting reacquainted. Who said all friends must be flesh-and-blood breathing? The Skin Horse may have been right: it’s loving something that makes it real.

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