What novels do you re-read and why?
May 10, 2021 9:04 AM   Subscribe

What novels do you re-read and, more to the point, why?
posted by BWA to Media & Arts (66 answers total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
 
This tends to fall into two different categories for me: pure comfort re-reads (things I read repeatedly in childhood like the Anne of Green Gables, Chalet School & What Katy Did books), and re-reads where I remember the book being good but I'm also aware that it's been long enough since I read it that I'm essentially a different person now compared to the me who originally read that book.

The aim of the second category is generally a) to see if the book is still good by adult-me standards (younger-me was a much less discriminating reader), and b) to see if I gain anything new from it by re-reading it from the perspective of an adult rather than that of a child or a young adult. As an example, I just re-read Persuasion by Jane Austen. I'd read all of Austen by the time I was 21 or so, and it's fascinating to go back now that I'm older than the almost-unmarriageably-old 28yo Anne Elliot and see how the book and its themes hit me differently now that I've had an extra decade of life experience.

Books that don't pass the part a) test on a re-read probably won't be re-read again; books that do, I hope to keep coming back to as I get older to see what new richness I discover in them by reading them through the lens of cumulative experience. And the beauty of part b) as a motive is that books are often a lot funnier now that I'm older than I was able to perceive when I was younger - as an example, I read White Noise by Don DeLillo as a teenager and took it completely seriously, and it was only when I came back to it a decade later that I realised how wry and funny a lot of it was meant to be.

An occasional third category is trying to get myself back into the groove of reading at all if I've fallen out of the habit (also true of my recent Austen re-read) - sometimes this feels less intimidating to do if I do it with a book I know I've already liked at least once, rather than a totally unknown new book.
posted by terretu at 9:13 AM on May 10 [12 favorites]


I really like Utz by Bruce Chatwin for its unreliable narrative structure and attempts at continuity. For a first book of fiction by a travel writer, it's well done.
posted by parmanparman at 9:15 AM on May 10 [1 favorite]


I read a lot and re-read a little, in three broad categories:

- childhood favorites, because it's nice to revisit them, and also because it's interesting to track how your readings of these books change over time! so like, in particular i've read A Wrinkle in Time and Lizard Music probably roughly once a year since third grade, and the experience is never exactly the same

- books that are really immersive or that I associate strongly with a mood/season. I end up reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone or the Naomi Novik fairy tales in winter a lot, or the book Katherine by Anya Seton, or Persuasion by Jane Austen in the fall. it's sort of like re-watching a favorite movie, which I also enjoy doing, also at particular times of year.

- the previous/most recent book in a series, if a sequel is coming out :) I always always forget what happened in the book before, so if it's not too huge an undertaking I'll re-read the previous volume
posted by goodbyewaffles at 9:18 AM on May 10 [6 favorites]


The one book I have read most often is probably The Picture of Dorian Gray, and I reread it a lot because it was short and easy to carry on the bus, but so densely packed with detail that it rewarded re-reading. There was always something in it that I hadn't noticed before.

But I also have a few romance novel series that I read over and over again, particularly the Stage Dive series by Kylie Scott, but also some of Courtney Milan's books. They're comfort reading, reliable emotional button pushers that I enjoy reading. Sometimes I don't want to be surprised and delighted, I just want to cry at predictable intervals, you know?
posted by jacquilynne at 9:18 AM on May 10 [4 favorites]


I read before bed, and sometimes my anxiety is such that reading something new will keep me awake (either to keep reading and find out what happens, or thinking about what I've read). I reread nonfiction books that I found interesting and engaging (Bill Bryson, Mary Roach, David Sedaris, I just reread one called The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs by Steve Brusatte). I often have two books going at a time - a new one, fiction or non-, for the daytime, and then something familiar on my nightstand.
posted by SeedStitch at 9:18 AM on May 10 [3 favorites]


I'm a huge re-reader (and re-watcher, and re-listener).

I went back and scanned my last few years of reading lists, and the ones that pop up annually (or even more frequently) are:

Jurassic Park
The Beach
Mildred Pierce
Crome Yellow

I was about to say I don't know what any of these have in common with each other and then I realized they are all stories in which things go more or less entirely to shit and the main character's best choice is just to dump everyone and everything and peace out.

I can't imagine why a narrative of abandoning all of your problems has been a comfort to me in the last several years of [gestures widely] I guess it's a mystery we will never understand.
posted by phunniemee at 9:19 AM on May 10 [18 favorites]


Oh, and like goodbyewaffles, I also will reread books in a series when a new one comes out, just to refamiliarize myself.
posted by SeedStitch at 9:19 AM on May 10 [3 favorites]


Okay so I am a huge re-reader of novels!! I would say I re-read for a few different reasons:

Comfort re-reading (e.g., Becky Chambers), where I'm feeling tired and sad and want to engage my brain in something familiar that I know will make me feel good (and isn't tv). These tend to be books that give me warm fuzzy feelings in some way, and are lighter reads.

Favourite re-reading (e.g. Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance), where I just love the book to pieces and can re-read it many times and still love it. Similar to comfort reading in that I enjoy the familiarity and re-engaging with the world, but not necessarily feel-good books.

Challenge re-reading (e.g. Greg Egan), where I want to re-read a book to see if I can understand it better or gain further perspective. Tends to be books where I struggled with concepts/themes, read too quickly and feel like I missed things or didn't engage fully, or read during a previous time in my life that was distinct (and I want to see if I engage with it differently via my current lens).

Nostalgic re-reading (e.g., Harry Potter), generally but not always YA books, that I read when I was younger and want to re-experience.
posted by DTMFA at 9:23 AM on May 10


Oh and nthing that I definitely re-read previous books in a series before new ones come out so that I am re-immersed in the world!
posted by DTMFA at 9:25 AM on May 10 [1 favorite]


I reread Edith Wharton a lot, I think the shades of character really appeal to me. Jane Austin, George Elliott, sort of same thing.

Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye and The Robber Bride (sometimes The Blind Assassin) speak to me about women's relationships.

I have a hyperactive boss and so I reread the Vorkosigan books now and then to remind myself of what things look like from the other side. :)
posted by warriorqueen at 9:27 AM on May 10 [5 favorites]


Prefacing all of this with I am a *very* fast reader, and would probably re-read less if I weren't. I also re-read things much less than I did when I was younger/had more spare time.

I personally have:

1) Comfort re-reads. Terry Pratchett's a big one in here. Ditto Jane Austen and PG Wodehouse. Occasional childhood nostalgia in here as well.

2) Touchstone books, for lack of a better word? Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, Lord of the Rings, Douglas Adams all fall in here. Big, immersive books I was heavily in the fandom for. These I reread probably around once a year throughout my teens and 20s; I've tapered off a bit now, and these are sort of merging with group 1. I've also got a few books I revisit at specific times of year (holidays, etc.) that fit in here.

3) Books I really think benefit from a reread. Closed-loop time travel books (Connie Willis' works) and/or anything with really intricate plotting or some sort of twist. Also Big Important Books (e.g., Middlemarch), including revisiting some stuff I read in high school/college for coursework and want to engage with as an (older) adult.

"Will I reread this?" is actually my main criteria for actually purchasing a physical book (vs. getting an ebook vs. checking out of the library), so most of the books on my shelves fit into one of these three categories.
posted by damayanti at 9:28 AM on May 10 [7 favorites]


OK, to be perfectly honest, probably the most important criterion is length. My favorite novel is Anna Karenina, but I've only read it through once, and I... don't really plan to do so again. I re-read certain passages from time to time, but it's too much of a commitment to go through the whole thousand-plus pages again. Most the stuff I've read multiple times, things like Hemingway and Catcher in the Rye, are fairly short, and read even quicker than their short length would suggest. You can finish The Sun Also Rises in a couple of days. On the other hand, as much as I enjoy Proust's prose, it's taken me years to finish Swann's Way once.

With that in mind, I do tend to prefer books that fulfill your second criteria. The book I've re-read most is The Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham. There's a bit of a sentimental attachment for me - I first read it for school, and it was the first "adult" book I really enjoyed rather than just read because that's what you're supposed to do. But every time I read it, I find something new that I didn't pick up on the first time. Different characters speak more directly to me. Obviously, if you're familiar with the book, I identified with the Larry character the first time I read it and saw it as a story about Larry. But the last time, when I was around 31 or 32, I was surprised how little Larry figured into my enjoyment. It changes the whole point of the book. I've re-read it five or six times, and each time something like that has happened. Sometimes they go back and forth; I re-read it once, either the third or fourth time, when I was in law school and thinking about dropping out, and I was back to sympathizing with Larry because "loafing" was something on my mind at the time. By the time I read it again four or five years later, Larry's loafing had again ceased to interest me.

It's funny because I'm not otherwise a Maugham fan. I tried Of Human Bondage a couple of times and couldn't get into it, and I gave only a cursory shot at The Moon and Sixpence. But The Razor's Edge, man. Total desert island book for me.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:32 AM on May 10 [1 favorite]


The only novel I re-read is The Catcher in the Rye. It's my favorite book of all time. I think I've only read it a couple of times from front-to-back. But I keep it on a shelf next to my bed, and I'll occasionally take it down and read a few random pages. I read it because it gives me comfort sometimes from battling the phonies in my own version of Pencey Prep.

Oh, and I sometimes read random pages from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but that's not exactly a novel. This one I re-read just for comic relief.
posted by akk2014 at 9:35 AM on May 10 [2 favorites]


A bit cliched, perhaps, but The Great Gatsby, in large part for the beauty of the language.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 9:36 AM on May 10 [7 favorites]


I've reread Pride and Prejudice a billion times. It's still entertaining and I have a tiny paperback copy that's easy to carry on a plane in case I end up needing to read something before bed to help me sleep when I'm traveling.
posted by pinochiette at 9:37 AM on May 10 [7 favorites]


It's mainly comfort re-reading for me - particularly if I'm tired or sick, and want something familiar that I know I'll enjoy. These tend to be "lighter" and can be childhood books, or Golden Age mysteries or something like Georgette Heyer.

I'd also sometimes re-read previous books in a series when a new one comes out, depending on how long it is since I last read them, and how long the series is.

I do also try to reread older books before giving them to my niblings. That way I can make sure that I can better gauge whether they are a) suitable in terms of level b) suitable in terms of attitudes c) likely to interest a particular nibling. (It's amazing how many of the books I remember as being great at representation or attitudes toward women/girls actually aren't - they just looked good compared to their contemporaries!)
posted by scorbet at 9:38 AM on May 10 [1 favorite]


I've rarely re-read things, but there are a few occasions where I have done so, and for different reasons. Here's why.

* There's a couple books that seem to have attached themselves to different specific moods for me. I first read Maeve Binchy's Circle of Friends when I was going through a big breakup, just like one of the main characters, and it was comforting. It's gotten re-read when I've gone through other breakups for that reason. Similarly, Edward Rutherfurd's Sarum is a re-read when I am having trouble sleeping because of illness - the chapters are all each self-contained stories, part of a larger epic narrative, and the stories are just engaging enough to distract me but not so complicated that I can't still follow it on no sleep.

* I've revisited a couple of childhood favorites a couple times. I've also dipped into one or another volume from Eduardo Galleano's Memory of Fire trilogy for rereads because it is just so damn good.

* One book, Bernard MacLaverty's Cal, I re-read a lot in my 20s because it was so well-written I was using it as a sort of academic study.

* Finally, I realized that when I originally read the Lord Of The Rings trilogy I was probably in a bit of an altered state (I read the whole thing in a white-hot obsessive hide-from-the-world rush 3 days after the 9/11 attacks). Some years later, I re-read it to see if I'd missed anything - and I had indeed. There were entire chapters of Fellowship Of The Ring that were entirely new to me, which I chalked up to having been so out of it on the first pass.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:44 AM on May 10


I read IT every June and Gone With the Wind every November to kick off the seasons. This has been my tradition since I was a young teenager. I'm not sure why I started but I associate these two enormous books with the summer and winter seasons respectively.
posted by all about eevee at 9:45 AM on May 10 [1 favorite]


Why do people re-watch Friends or the Golden Girls or the Sopranos? Why do people re-watch the same movies over and over again? Because there's something new to find, because it's comforting or maybe they just always watch rom coms over Christmas? I'd imagine people re-read books again for similar reasons.

I tend to re-read for comfort - specifically books in the Ilona Andrews universe.
posted by rdnnyc at 9:49 AM on May 10 [1 favorite]


I reread books I want to be able to discuss with others---just to refresh my memory.

I also spend a lot of time rereading books that I did not really get the first time around. When I was a kid, I was usually reading several grades ahead and I was also allowed to read pretty much anything that I wanted. This lead to me reading a lot of novels that I could understand on a basic level but that I couldn't really follow on an emotional level. I read a lot of of books where I understood the plot but lacked the life experience to grasp characters' motivations and such. For instance, I read Jane Austen when I was too young to really understand the emotional complexity of some of the situations so I am rereading her works.
posted by ASlackerPestersMums at 9:50 AM on May 10 [3 favorites]


Every few years I reread Neuromancer (Gibson) and Schizmatrix (Sterling). They've become books I've been reading at various points in my life for so long that they're like measuring sticks (the marker hashes on the kitchen doorframe) in how I respond to the stories and characters and which parts call out to me in new ways or changed ways.
posted by kokaku at 9:51 AM on May 10 [1 favorite]


Two novels that I have re-read are A Confederacy of dunces and The Master and Margarita. Both novels are lush in detail, wildly comic and deeply immersive. I hope to one day re-read A la recherche du temps perdu, largely for the same reasons.
posted by No Robots at 10:04 AM on May 10


I have taken to re-reading more recently.

Sometimes I'm just stuck in a rut and need a quick read to remind me how much I enjoy reading.

Sometimes I want to re-visit a favorite author who is no longer active.

Like others I often read the last book in a series that has a new entry.

I find myself enjoying audiobooks of books I've read already more than audiobooks of books i haven't read. The Patrick O'Brian Aubrey/Maturin books are great this way.

I will re-read Pynchon, Eco, Nabokov and Joyce, and Godel Escher Bach. I re-read David Mitchell, Anna Burns and AS Byatt, Anne McCaffrey, Claire North and NK Jemison.
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:06 AM on May 10 [1 favorite]


I have far, far too many books, and I'm not great about going to the library (though I'm getting better now that I've started using Libby), so I long ago made it a rule that before I'm allowed to buy any more books, I need to reread for a certain number of weeks/months. So I go through my shelves and pick things and reread them. Anything that I've passed over enough times that I know I never want to reread it, I give away, which clears space. Everything else I eventually enjoy again - either I like the writing, or the story, or the characters - there's always something in it (and usually something that evokes a feeling that suggests the next book to reread - I reread Vanity Fair and then I have to reread The Custom of the Country, for example, because of how the anti-heroines reflect one another, which can then send me to Zuleika Dobson or the Eustace Diamonds, or in a completely different direction, depending on the mood I'm in. I rarely reread nonfiction, but then I rarely read nonfiction.

Like others here have answered, I also have books that are comfort books (and a lot of the same ones - Jane Austen, Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett's witch books, Cold Comfort Farm, Bel Canto) that I go back to again and again because it's like visiting old friends. I think it's the same as why I rewatch favorite movies. I already know the plot and love the characters and remember the jokes - but that doesn't make it any less entertaining.

And then every now and then I read a book that's so good that I immediately restart it at the beginning and read it again. I can only think of a few of those (few enough that I can probably name them), but usually it's because something about the writing or the plotting or the experience as a reader just blew me away and I needed to see how it was done.
posted by Mchelly at 10:08 AM on May 10 [2 favorites]


I reread Moby Dick from time to time because it's so weird and sprawling and outside of my life experience. And it's layered and beautiful and queer and bull-headed. It's thick and slow and hilarious and poetical. It also contains a lot of information about whales and whaling. It beat the generation of footnote-obsessed novelists I grew up with by almost a century and a half. I'm sure there are better books for rereading out there, but this is mine.
posted by rikschell at 10:10 AM on May 10 [3 favorites]


5+ times:
Orwell's 1984
Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness"
Kafka's "Metamorphosis"
Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird

4+ times:
Anything by Margaret Laurence - her novels keep re-giving at different stages of my life
Anything by Alice Munro - for the same reason - they *hit different* at different ages

Kafka's The Castle - reading this makes me feel like a bumble bee falling asleep in a flower. It's my comfort book.

Cormack McCarthy's Blood Meridian - an Impressionist masterpiece. I often give it as a gift, and then have to re-read it again myself.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez' One Hundred Years of Solitude - I need to read it every few summers for my soul.

3+ times:
Milorad Pavic's Dictionary of the Khazars - a poetic little dreamy encyclopedic work

William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom - another really Impressionist work.... I guess I like my re-reads to be less plot-driven and more "mood" driven...

Herman Melville's Moby Dick - takes me immediately to the sea (or how I imagine the sea lol)

2+ times:
Samuel Beckett's Malloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable - because it's *hard!*

Gao Xingjian's Soul Mountain - about the narrator/author's journey through rural China, and a meditation on the self and the nature of living... gosh I have to re-read it again!

I'm always having this battle between re-reading a loved book, and starting something new - I don't have an infinite amount of time, here! It's a real crisis!
posted by Dressed to Kill at 10:10 AM on May 10 [4 favorites]


I tend to take re-reads on vacations, and I tend to only re-read books that I loved the first time, all for different reasons (story, characters, lyricism, profundity). I'm not interested in seeing if an older me would be able to grasp what younger me couldn't. For example, I've tired at least 5 times over my lifetime to read Wuthering Heights and it's just not going to happen for me and I stopped trying.

Some books I have read over and over: The Sparrow (Mary Doria Russell), Beloved (Morrison), Imajica (Clive Barker), Away (Jane Urquhart), My Heart Laid Bare (Oates), Handmaid's Tale (Atwood), Animal Farm (Orwell).

I have no answer for my husband when he asks why I need a room full of books if I am not going to re-read every one.
posted by archimago at 10:13 AM on May 10 [2 favorites]


Edith Wharton's novels are always amazing, no matter how many times I read them.

I have purged my book collection through several moves, but will always want to have on hand: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, As the Earth Turns by Gladys Hasty Carroll, and She Came to Stay by Simone De Beauvoir. Also, the Sun also Rises by Ernest Hemingway.

Part of the enjoyment is knowing what I'm getting, but also it is the joy of relishing the experience--getting lost in the story, experiencing the settings, knowing the characters.
posted by rhonzo at 10:18 AM on May 10 [1 favorite]


I reread The Dead every Epiphany. It started as an experiment with rereading. Now that I've started I cannot stop. I'm getting the chills thinking about it.
posted by bdc34 at 10:20 AM on May 10 [3 favorites]


This is such a great question. I am torn between the urge to read everyone's responses carefully before adding mine and the powerful wish to add my own. Barthes was all "the banality of lists" but whatever, I love lists, call me bourgeois.

I would co-sign most of the re-read rationales above - comfort, immersiveness, approaching a complex book many times over the years as I change.

I'd add that rereading books can bring back my earlier self - when I re-read Robertson Davies, for instance, I'm immediately transported back to my early teens when he was my very favorite author. So sophisticated! So cultured! When I reread Swann's Way or The Golden Notebook, I remember reading them when I worked in Shanghai and read obsessively because no matter how exciting it was to be in Shanghai I was still pretty lonely.

Sometimes I reread books to feel close to people - Bleak House is my father's favorite novel and although I love it for its own sake, it's also comforting to read because I know he's read it so often. Bleak House is one of the finest novels in English, by the way - ranking books from one to a hundred is impossible and silly, but if you were identifying important and amazing books, Bleak House would be one of them. So weird! So rich! So ridiculous! So eerie!

Sometimes I reread books because I've read something that sheds a new light on them - you read a bunch of modernists and then you want to reread M John Harrison because all of the sudden you see his influences. Or for instance I had no idea that there was an anti-slavery part of Mansfield Park.

Really chronic re-reads have shifted for me over the years. I used to reread The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin, for instance, and now I know it too well and am a bit too disillusioned about it.

Books I can reread with pleasure pretty much any time: Samuel Delany's extremely rich and detailed Triton (I love his prose), any Sarah Schulman novel (activists!), Jane Eyre (how I loathe Rochester! And St. John! The pleasure of loathing is basically the point of the book), The Custom of the Country (descriptions of pretty dresses!), James Baldwin's essays (they have reissued The Price of the Ticket, get it while it can be gotten!), memoir/fiction Lark Rise to Candleford (I have my grandmother's copy), any M John Harrison, even the ones I don't like for some reason.

I also reread a lot of fanfic; that's my real simple-light-comfort stuff, mostly fanfic from, like, 2008 in which Snape is not a terrible person and does not die and/or in which the characters from Stargate Atlantis encounter eerie lovecraftian meres and so on. I am also a total sucker for "I rewrote Jane Eyre except with the characters from X-Men" type stories.
posted by Frowner at 10:26 AM on May 10 [4 favorites]


I reread books when I don't realize that I've already read them.

And I reread books when I didn't like them the first time through. Pretty much always I still don't like them, but at least I feel like I've given them another try.
posted by aniola at 10:30 AM on May 10


many years ago I wound up turning into a re-reader because I would read at bedtime and a new book would often keep me up until 4am. so instead I would read something familiar that wouldn't keep me up all night wondering 'what's going to happen next?'

I guess I got pretty habituated to it. actually, now that I think about it I have always had certain 'comfort read' books that I go back to again and again.

the OG is Watership Down, couldn't say how many times I've read it...
The Kushiel Series is ultimate comfort reading for me.
anything by Elizabeth Hand, Peter Watts, Michael Gruber (I like my comfort dark...)

a beautiful book The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney which I highly recommend.

Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, The Diamond Age (Neal Stephenson)

I have read, for example, Gravity's Rainbow more than once because really, you just cannot take everything in on one read. I think I have read it all the way through 4 times. I'm sure there is still more to discover if I read it again.

I could go on but this is probably enough :D
posted by supermedusa at 10:33 AM on May 10


Like others above, I reread for comfort, or because a book is particularly evocative of a mood or time or place that I want to re-immerse myself in. I'll also reread earlier books in a series if a new book comes out, particularly if it's been a while and I want to refresh my memory about the prior books.

But I second Frowner re fanfic: most of my rereading is of fic, especially early in the morning or late in the evening when I just need something to occupy me for a bit while my brain either boots up for the day, or winds down. Way easier to quickly read a familiar, beloved fic for 15-30 minutes, than to read a whole book.

Another kind of rereading I do is to listen to the audiobook of something I've already read in book form. Sometimes this is for the pleasure of the audiobook narration/performance, like with the Rivers of London series where Kobna Holdbrook-Smith gives such a great performance. Other times it's because I want to listen to something I don't have to commit my whole attention to; if I've already read the book, it's no big deal if I space out for a few pages.
posted by yasaman at 10:36 AM on May 10


I also can't NOT have a book to read, I am usually reading 2 or 3 at the same time. so if I'm tired but want to read I may go for a re-read and save the new book for when I am more attentive. I have a ton of books, don't use the library as much as I should and am currently unemployed, so re-reading is also free and effortless.
posted by supermedusa at 10:42 AM on May 10 [5 favorites]


I often re-read books which I enjoyed but didn't fully understand the first time I read them (the last one was Inherent Vice)
posted by Chenko at 10:58 AM on May 10


I reread constantly, in part because it's often easier than finding a new book. I also read all the way through an author's work generally when I find one I like. So I've been through Dickens ~2.5 times, Austen a few times, and I'm just now going through some contemporary authors who I liked 10-15 years ago and had never gotten back to. Any book I've enjoyed I'll eventually read at least twice.

Some of this is decided for me—I read a lot and have a terrible memory, so when five years pass I forget at least part of a book and am interested in going back to it. Some of it is just because... look, it would be great if Austen had written 30 books, but she didn't, so if a few years have passed and I am itching for a Jane Austen novel I'll just pick Mansfield Park or Emma up and start them all over again.
posted by Polycarp at 10:58 AM on May 10


I mostly reread these for comfort, but sometimes I'm amazed that I find something I miss. All of them have had at least ten reads, and for more than a decade I'd read 'The Reproductive System' and 'The Third Policeman' every year:

· The Reproductive System — John Sladek. I now read this in one sitting. It's like a movie in my head.

· The Third Policeman — Flann O'Brien

· At Swim-Two-Birds — Flann O'Brien

· The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner — James Hogg. Because it skewers piety (and the dreadfully smug protagonist), breaks the fourth wall, has the author make a cameo appearance as a witless yokel, and you know how it ends (very, very badly) the minute you hit the first page.

· The Uncle books, by J P Martin. I read these books when I was 7-8. They made a world. I've never left it.
posted by scruss at 11:10 AM on May 10


Re-reading is comforting sometimes, familiar language. Right now, re-reading Margaret Drabble, Seven Sisters. Also, I'm in my 60s and have forgotten a lot about the books I love, and re-reading is a chance to meet them again, get to know them, see something in them I may not have seen before.
posted by theora55 at 11:14 AM on May 10 [1 favorite]


I don't get much leisure reading time these days, so I don't reread often.

I do reread when an author whose work I loved dies. It reminds me that although the person is gone, their work remains. So recently that's been Thief of Time (Pratchett) and Left Hand of Darkness (Le Guin). The first is almost entirely a comfort read for me (and one I've reread so often over the years that my copy is a bit detached from itself).

The second, a deeply fascinating work with gender at the forefront-- not just in the work itself, but in how the author's relationship to that work changed over time (the world has people who do not have a gender most of the time, and may take different genders for reproduction throughout their lifetimes -- Le Guin used "he" in the novel, but the version I have has a great afterword discussing how differently the book reads if you make another choice for the pronouns). I'm also interested in how *my* relationship to the novel has changed over time, given how my own relationship to my gender, to that of the person who first introduced me to the book, to pronoun usage in society at large, has changed too.
posted by nat at 11:19 AM on May 10


There are books I re-read (the Sherlock Holmes stories, the Hobbit & the Lord of the Rings) simply because I enjoy the company of the characters. Settling down in Baker Street listening to Sherlock scratch at his fiddle while the Doctor relates their latest adventure, or Frodo and Sam tramping along gives me a friendly, familiar feeling.
posted by SPrintF at 11:22 AM on May 10 [1 favorite]


The Road - it feels more like a prophesy with each passing year
posted by glaucon at 11:23 AM on May 10


It's mostly comfort re-reads for me. If it's something that I haven't read in a few years, while I'll remember the overarching plot, I don't remember all of the finer points. I'll get to relive some of the conversations that snap together just-so.

I'll discover some new bits of foreshadowing, some plot that I might have missed/misconstrued the first time around, or sometimes during multi-book series I realize something that happened in book 10 was actually setup in books 1-2 and get more appreciation for the author's long term timeline and patience in setting things up.

In some circumstances I start to find just the opposite; book 1 of a series has a bunch of small plot points which are wrong/inconsistent given the later series. That usually either results in me dropping the first X books off as cannon and no longer something I'll re-read. Sometimes it shows that the entire series is more of a hodgepodge and I abandon it.
posted by nobeagle at 11:23 AM on May 10


I've read most of Margaret Atwood's books multiple times, especially Surfacing and Life Before Man. These stories speak to me about relationships (difficult ones), and have dry humor. I've keep on hand Catcher in the Rye and Nine Stories. I'm drawn to the time period of those books, and how people behaved so differently than how I perceive in the current time. I collect antiques and art and am kind of obsessed. I'm somewhat of a hermit these days so it's a fantasy I've plenty of time for.
posted by waving at 11:37 AM on May 10


I often like to read a book twice in succession. Sometimes not the whole thing--but enough that I can "see the end from the beginning" so to speak.

Long ago I read someone describing this as like moving from a human perspective of being time-bound, seeing things only in order as they occur, and never knowing what is going to happen next, to moving to a god-like perspective--more of a 3-D perspective where you see the whole "landscape" of the book, its characters and plot from an aerial perspective. You can fly over the landscape, see both what came before and what will happen next. The characters and events "stand up" and take on a three dimensional aspect because you can see them in full perspective in terms of how they relate to everything in the story and all other characters, including things that came before and happened later.

In more prosaic terms, it gives you some cool insight into how the author set up various events, climaxes, denouements, character arcs, and so on.

When you first read the story, you don't know why the main character meets some minor character or has some random experience. Sometimes you don't even remember it later because the significance wasn't at all clear at the moment. But when you re-read, you can see, "Aha, this is where the author introduced Character X" or "This is why the main character had Experience Y at this point".

It gives you a greater appreciation of how skillfully the authored plotted and planned the book, and also a greater appreciation for events and characters that wasn't all that clear on first read.
posted by flug at 1:17 PM on May 10 [5 favorites]


I sometimes re-read books I read a long time ago that had a deep impact on me. It's interesting to find out if they match up to what I remember, or if I view them differently now I'm older. For instance, The Unbearable Lightness of Being made me swoon at age 16, but roll my eyes at age 30. The Virgin in the Garden series was, if anything, more profound in the second reading when I was older -- especially re-reading Still Life after I'd been pregnant and given birth myself.

The book I've re-read the most is Bridget Jones' Diary, which I consider a totally under-appreciated satirical masterpiece. I couldn't even guess how many times I've read it since it came out in the 1996. If i'm feeling down or fed-up, its a book I can pick off the shelf, open at random, read a few pages of and feel instantly better.
posted by EllaEm at 1:55 PM on May 10 [2 favorites]


I no longer read much fiction, but I read (and re-read) three types of novels: Jane Austen, time travel-adjacent books, and a sub-set of Jasper Fforde's books.

I read most of the Jane Austen novels every year (though Northanger Abbey or Mansfield Park less often) because I sometimes desperately need a controlled happy ending. It's gentle, nobody dies "on-screen," and when life is rough, I need to believe that things will turn out all right.

That feeling of "Oh, no, it's all gone wrong and will never be right again" followed by it all turning right may have set me up for some terrible expectations for real life, but it's the same as children who ask for the same bedtime story over and over. Experiencing the good, the (not too terribly) bad, and the good again, once you know the story, gives you a sense of control. You know you won't have your heart permanently broken because you know how the scary stuff ends.

And, as terretu notes, different elements resonate in different ways as time goes by. In my latest readings, I've noted how people I didn't mind so much in first readings are not just comically bad, but truly horrible people. But yes, my take on Anne Elliot is more nuanced at 54 than at 37, and certainly more than at 19.

I also read time-travel-adjacent books, and those of a similar ilk. I am not interested in traditional science fiction "time machine" approaches but books where characters live multiple lifetimes or particularly long lives (Claire North's The First 15 Lives of Harry August, Matt Haig's How to Stop Time, V.E. Schwab's The Invisible Life of Addie Larue, Ken Grimwood's Replay) or where there's less of an accent of the how of the travel than what happens to the characters (Selden Edwards' The Little Book and the sequel The Lost Prince, Connie Willis' Blackout/All Clear).

I am probably looking for the same thing as with the Jane Austen books; a happy ending. I don't care if the war is won or the invention works; I just want my "people" to have the lives they want. The real world is hard and we have so little control over it. If I love the way a story is told, but then the ending breaks me (last year's reading of Lisa Grundwall's Grand Central Station-set Time After Time), I know I won't read it again. Similarly, I recently read Matt Haig's The Midnight Library, and though I was fascinated by the world building and found that first read comforting, I didn't care about the characters. They didn't resonate with me. I couldn't see myself in their shoes.

Finally, I reread Jasper Fforde's novels, but mostly the Thursday Next series, starting with The Eyre Affair, because instead of time travel, there's book travel -- the characters jump into books and interact with characters. And Fforde is just freakishly funny in as close a way to Doug Adams as I can imagine, and when things are rough, I can sink into his books and just laugh.

I read a lot, but mostly non-fiction, because the non-fiction I choose doesn't make me feel a particularly way. Conversely, I read fiction because I want to feel something, and I want to feel it safely. (Upon reading this thread, add Anne of Green Gables for the same reason as the Austen.)
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 1:57 PM on May 10 [2 favorites]


Read-once book: I enjoyed this, understand the structure, didn't feel the need to make any notes on it, put it down and said "I can let this go now."

Read-again book: This tickled my brain in a way I can't pinpoint; I'm still thinking about it days later, and making more connections to it; I mention it to friends and do a little writing about it, whether to copy down interesting passages or to do a brief review. It takes on a life of its own in my reflections, and I appreciate the way it was put together, like a satisfying puzzle. Thomas Pynchon, Elena Ferrante, William Gibson.

Comfort re-reads: The Moomin books, particularly Moominvalley in November.

Keepers/sentimental re-reads: These shake my understanding and move my heart, resonating differently with each re-read because I'm not the same reader I was. Mrs. Dalloway and Middlemarch and Larry McMurtry's Duane's Depressed have held up for me.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:11 PM on May 10


I’m kind of wondering what prompted the question. Something about your own books? For an article?

The books I’ve reread more than 20 times tend to be comfort reads with entertaining prose, while the books I’ve read only 2 or 3 times are “classics” and rereading is about discovery. There are some books that are different with every read.
posted by betweenthebars at 2:41 PM on May 10


Response by poster: I’m kind of wondering what prompted the question.

Dinner table conversation. A discussion of the the Jane Austen addiction started us off (masterful pacing, Ms Austen). My wife likes Nancy Mitford, E.F. Benson, and Trollope considerably. Meeting up with old friends for the first two, and the mysterious way that the jokes are familiar but always work, even when you know they are coming. As to the latter, his facing of reality (as opposed to the somewhat manic and even surreal atmosphere of Dickens).

And also to get ideas for what to read next. No articles in mind, though it would make for an interesting study. And, sure, if I can steal a hint on writing better books myself, I'm all eyes.

Plus I thought people would have fun with it.

Thanks to all, by the way, much here of interest, greatly appreciated.
posted by BWA at 3:17 PM on May 10 [2 favorites]


Response by poster: But The Razor's Edge, man. Total desert island book for me.

Fun Fact. Bill Murray thought (thinks?) so highly of it that he would only do Ghostbusters II if the studio agreed to back his version of Razor's Edge as well. Reviews were unkind. No matter. It carries special fondness on my part because when it was showing in Manhattan's Paris Theater, I was the only person in the audience.
posted by BWA at 3:24 PM on May 10 [1 favorite]


Echoing what others have said that I mostly reread for a sense of coziness and nostalgia. This includes The Razor’s Edge which I first read in high school. It doesn’t resonate as strongly with me now but it brings back positive memories for me nonetheless.

Also The Dispossessed . I’ve read this every October for the last few years and I don’t know if there is another book that so successfully pulls me out of head and into a new world. Hope to not tire of it the way Frowner has, perhaps I should take a break next year...

A few others that I’ve not heard mentioned The Country Life by Rachel Cusk. To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis.
posted by scantee at 4:14 PM on May 10


The two novels that I probably re-read the most number of times were John Steinbeck, East of Eden and Robert Harris, Fatherland. I don't see that they have much in common other than I liked reading them.
posted by thelonius at 4:28 PM on May 10 [1 favorite]


Nabokov said, "Curiously enough, one cannot read a book: one can only reread it." I doubt there's a novel of any complexity that either pleased or interested you that would not repay a reread. When I finished Proust, I immediately looped around and started over, concluding with the infamous "Duchess's Red Shoes" episode in the Guermantes Way, which seemed like a high point before the tedious Captive/Fugitive and Baron Charlus stuff. I realized a lot being able to read the beginning with the end in mind (although I also have this theory that Proust intended us to read parts of the later books with only dim and impressionistic memories of the earlier ones, to echo the experience of the narrator and his malleable memories).

I have my genre comfort rereads, like a lot of people here (the Nero Wolfe detective novels, which I have been reading and rereading for almost as far back as I can remember), but I also found myself rereading challenging novels this past year, as apparently I still wanted something toothsome for the brain but couldn't bear the slightest uncertainty as to how things were going to turn out, or whether I would find the book worthwhile. I immediately restarted The Golden Bowl upon finishing a (re)read of it last summer.

I'm also currently doing some shorter re-reads to determine whether books still deserve a place on my shelves, as I live in a modest NYC apartment and I've gotten way too slack about "one in, one out." Neuromancer--surprisingly, yes. Still Life with Bridle--still considering.
posted by praemunire at 4:32 PM on May 10 [1 favorite]


I have to have several books to read at all times, I have a fair number of favorites at home but I also order from my local library. Sometimes I'm too lazy about finding new books, and for the last year I haven't been able to visit the big main library downtown, so it's back to my own bookshelf.
I'll reread a favorite so I can fall into it again; and with a sprawling cast of characters-- Dickens full unabridged David Copperfield, for instance-- it's easier to read more closely when I already know what's going to happen. Sometimes it's language; I read T.R. Pearson A Short History Of A Small Place over and over again because of the astonishing language acrobatics his characters display. I reread The Sandman about once a year, to enjoy some of the illustrations (and be irritated at others). I reread The Art of Eating (a collection of 5 books) by M.F.K. Fisher for its depictions of long gone times, places, and people within the author's life, which she recounts through food.
Other rereads: Truman Capote, The Dogs Bark (a collection); Raymond Chandler The Big Sleep; any of Colette's novels or story collections; also Shirley Jackson anything.
Lastly, I'm rereading Pride and Prejudice, as I've been watching a series on YouTube by Dr. Octavia Cox called Close Reading, and I want to reread the book to actually catch some of the points she discusses. As I said above, I 'fall into' books and many times it's like watching a movie in my head, sort of-- but I can get swept up in the story and miss some details. In some cases, that is exactly why I like to reread-- to be in that state of absorption.
posted by winesong at 4:53 PM on May 10 [1 favorite]


Oh, I am such a re-reader.

I re-read all of William Gibson's books at least bi-annually. Partly because I like his stories, and they make me very comfortable, and partly because I love his style and I love opening his books up and rolling around in them. He honestly gets better as he gets older, but my favorite, and the book of his I've re-read most often, is Pattern Recognition, because it is the perfect example of his writing style without being a science fiction novel. That strikes even me as strange, as I am a dedicated science fiction reader, but it proves he can do more.

I re-read A Wrinkle In Time now and then because it was my introduction to science fiction. I'm a guy, but even in elementary school I loved that the main character was a girl.

I re-read Terry Moore's comics, especially Strangers In Paradise every few years. I love the art, I love the stories, I love the characters. Terry gives me hope that other men can write female characters well.

A number of years ago I figured I had read The Lord of the Rings about 30 times since 7th grade. Every time I read it, I figure I won't need to read this again...then a few years later I read it again anyway.

I've read The Stand a bunch of times. I'm not much of a Stephen King fan, but I do love post-apocalyptic fiction, and King with this one book scratched that itch perfectly.

I keep re-reading Richard Adams' Maia, event though I tell myself not to. It's a high fantasy reader's beach book, full of sex, adventure, good vs. evil. The world is almost perfectly built and I find Maia herself to be one of the most likable characters in fiction

Try as much as I can, I often cannot wait until a whole series is out to start reading. So I read the first book, and like it. When the second book comes out, I need to refresh my memory, so I read it again, then read the second book. When the third book comes out...well, you get the picture. (Just for the record, I haven't started Game of Thrones because I don't expect it to ever be finished.)
posted by lhauser at 7:41 PM on May 10


Others have covered my main reasons but two I haven’t seen mentioned: when I think I haven’t done a good job the first time around, and when there’s good sex.
posted by kapers at 9:40 PM on May 10


I forgot a few novellas and short stories that I re-read because they feel recursive.

Borges Labyrinths - re-readable paradoxes that are irreducible

Cormack McCarthy's - A Member of the Wedding - I have a soft spot for southern gothic in August

Henry James' The Turn of the Screw - like, MAYBE I'll come down on a new "solution"??

and omg I can't believe I forgot Joyce's The Dead (thank you bdc34!) which *also* has a non-solution.

I like to re-read things that have unstable/untenable/irreducible non-solutions, fables (I could add Orwell's Animal Farm too, I think I've read it a few times). I can return to writing when it feels unfinished (so this also connects with some of my favorites above).

Reading is an event for me. When I'm re-reading a familiar work it's like taking tarot cards and spreading them out and understanding them against the world as it is, and me as I am.

I think this tendency comes from having been an English student for so long. Everything is read against something else, or about wrestling with the text and what the text is showing and hiding etc. etc. etc. So as I type it it feels like a lot, but I think the familiarity of my re-reads makes it less intensive.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 4:04 AM on May 11


I am not much of a re-reader myself. But I re-read The Catcher in the Rye about once/twice each decade because I liked it in high school and I want to see how my perspective changes as I age. So I have read it 5-6 times so far.

When my kids were in high school, I did re-read a lot of books as they were reading them in class so we could discuss them. I have also re-read a few from my high school/college days they did not cover.

Other than that, if a certain book continually pops up in my memory and had a lasting impact, I may pick it up again. But for the most part, I have so many things I want to read for the first time that I don't want to spend time with something I already read.
posted by maxg94 at 4:41 AM on May 11 [1 favorite]


Great question and this conversation makes me think I should reread more often. As I’ve grown older, my tastes have changed and when I try to go back to a comfort read it’s often disappointing or even embarrassing.

The books that have held up the best for me on multiple reads separated by at least a decade are:

Underworld by Don DeLillo
Deliverance by James Dickey
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
The Great Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald
Dune by Frank Herbert
Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban
Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson
A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean
No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Shout out to Jesus’ Son and River Runs Through It. They are the only books I’ve read and unconditionally loved in three different decades. Also they are short, which is probably not a coincidence
posted by lumpy at 7:27 AM on May 11 [1 favorite]


One of the few perks of getting older (and I mean past 50 older - which, how the hell did that happen?) is going back and re-reading books. I'm a touch indiscriminate in what I re-read, honestly. I've read Ubik a bunch of times now because it is so gloriously mutable - every time I've read it I've had a very different experience of it. The Ms. Marple novels by A.Christie are also books that shimmer, once when I read them they were like this, now like that. Also Chester Himes, Cotton Comes to Harlem in this category - a perfect novel and criminally under-appreciated. Come to think of it, Alice Munro (any) as well.

I re-read "The Bear" by Faulkner pretty regularly for a while but haven't in about a decade, I guess. The same with "The Dead" and I think I will do that soon. Both those books are very much late teen books for me. I re-read the Bronte's a little while back, but skipped Villette (which is the greatest English novel of the 19th century and I will fight you) because ... I treasure the first time I read it. and I don't want to corrupt that.

The last time I re-read A Winter's Tale I kind of decided I would not read it again, same with The Human Stain (read with a friend): for different reasons, but in both cases I just didn't want to be around these writer's anymore.

The books I don't re-read I can generally remember the whole of from the first page and I don't feel the need to. The Three Body Problem has an amazing moment when one character does something that changes everything completely and irretrievably and that moment is a wonder - but I won't go back to the book because I know how that all came about. I really, really liked the book - but I know I won't get anything from a second reading. Master and Marguerita I've read a couple times in the various translations and the last time I read it might be the last time I read it. It was a good translation, but the beautiful strangeness of the book was lost. Or, I just outgrew it.
posted by From Bklyn at 8:50 AM on May 11


I have two types of re-read. Comfort and catchup. Comfort books I re-read because I need something from them, a familiar story, beloved characters, something. Catchup books I re-read because either a new book in the series is coming out and I need to remember what the hell happened or something else along those lines. I read a lot and I re-read a ton because books are my friends and sometimes I just want to hang out with an old pal.

To give an example, these are the books I read this spring:
Calculated Risks by Seanan McGuire - new book, not a re-read
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo - *re-read in prep for the Netflix series*
Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo - *re-read in prep for the Netflix series*
Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo - *re-read in prep for the Netflix series*
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo - *re-read in prep for the Netflix series*
Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo - *re-read in prep for the Netflix series*
King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo - New book, read in prep for the Netflix series
Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo - New book, read in prep for the Netflix series
Paladin's Grace by T. Kingfisher - new book
Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary - *re-read due to author's death
Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells - new book but did listen to all the Murderbot audio books to remember what was going on in the series.
The Galaxy and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers - new book, but did re-read the series this winter.
This is how You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone - *re-read because some bad shit happened in my personal life and I need solace.
All Systems Red by Martha Wells - *re-read because I need Murderbot.
posted by teleri025 at 11:26 AM on May 11


I love this thread.

I re-read books all the time and always have. (I also re-watch films over and over and over.) I like to re-consumer media that delights me, that makes my mind buzz. This year, it's been all TV and film (Cowboy Bebop, Ted Lasso, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Sturgill Simpson's Sound & Fury — all of these over and over and over again). But often, it's books, whether in print or by audio.

Some of my faves (in no particular order) are The Razor's Edge by Maugham (already mentioned above), True Grit by Portis, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Clarke, Dune by Herbert, Sapiens by Harari, The Lord of the Rings, Watership Down by Adams, The Power of One by Courtenay, and many others but I don't have time to list them all right now.

Re-reading books is comforting. And it's a joy when a new book enters the "pantheon" of books that I'll re-read. Sapiens was the last one to do so, and I've re-read it maybe five times in the three years since I first found it.
posted by jdroth at 4:54 PM on May 11 [2 favorites]


I love this question. My biggest comfort rereads are The Fault in Our Stars, The Martian, Into Thin Air, Pride and Prejudice and I Capture the Castle. Plus childhood favorites like Little Women, Anne of the Island, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I like them all because they are super fast to read and emotionally compelling, but have held up in some cases for decades of rereading. I also love Wharton and Henry James for slower rereading. And this thread has inspired me to reread the Thursday Next series.

I'm guessing Murderbot will end up on this list someday too.
posted by Threeve at 9:58 PM on May 11 [2 favorites]


I love to re-read James Joyce's Ulysses and Melville's Moby Dick because there's so much fun to be had in the pure sound of the language and the funny bits and the murky depths. I usually dip in rather than doing a beginning-to-end traversal. They aren't really novels I realized, they are more like universes (that might explain why people find them challenging, they aren't your standard reading experience). As well, I have them in a beloved audiobook version - I don't know whether that counts as re-reading as re-hearing :)

Also love reading some short stories over and over again. First, they're short and second the good ones deliver a hit of super-condensed insight and emotion. Yum.

I will sometimes do a curiosity read - checking back on a teenaged favorite or a book that might have been read too early.
posted by storybored at 12:26 PM on May 12


I am less of a re-reader now than I used to be. But I do tend to re-read beloved books every 5 or 6 years or so. Some of it is nostalgia, often it's an entire series or the entire oeuvre of a particular author. I'll re-read the 1st book and then can't stop until I've read them all; once I'm immersed in the atmosphere and language and types of characters I can't get enough. Examples:

- Betsy-Tacy books
- Anne of Green Gables books
- All of Elizabeth Taylor (the British novelist, not the actress)
- All of Barbara Pym
- All of Miss Read
posted by primate moon at 1:34 PM on May 20


I’m a confirmed, frequent, and unrepentant re-reader, for the same reason that I will re-listen to music that I have enjoyed, re-view art, re-hike trails, etc - because I appreciate the familiarity and remind myself of what I savored in the first place, and often find new things to appreciate with successive experiences.

The books that I have re-read the most:

Little Big Man, Thomas Berger - no other book is even a close second. For years after I read it the first time I would read it straight through a couple of times a year. After >40 years or so, there will sometimes be a year that I don’t read all of it, but I have yet to go a year without reading several chapters.

Perelandra, CS Lewis - my favorite one of the Space Trilogy, I find his description of a new Eden and the struggle to keep it from the Fall inspiring.

Other than those two, many other novels with much less frequency, and many many (mostly science fiction) short story anthologies (Adventures in Time and Space, Welcome to the Monkey House, Ted Chiang, Ken Liu, Steven King, Zenna Henderson, old Hugo & Nebula award winners, etc)

I also read very quickly and familiar works go the fastest, so it’s easy to cruise through them again.
posted by Calibandage at 6:03 PM on May 23


« Older Scripting answers to Google Form?   |   Have impromptu Covid memorials sprung up in other... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments