Children often read a favorite book over and over again or ask a parent to read the same bedtime story night after night. According to Scholastic, this is good for children, who gain reading fluency and comfort from familiar stories, settings, and characters.
Adult readers are less likely to repeat what they read—though they can also find comfort and gain new insights from rereading familiar books. For readers of all ages, stories with known characters, settings, and outcomes provide respite from an unpredictable world.
Some adults prefer reading new books rather than revisiting past literary conquests. Others enjoy visiting familiar places both real and imaginary or gain further insights by rereading. Sometimes adults reread books for professional reasons. Teachers, for example, may often read or review as they teach the same books in their classes year after year.
In this month’s Readers Write, we asked: Do you read favorite books over and over? Why or why not? Here are some of the responses:
Lizann: I don’t usually reread books, even my favorites. I also don’t typically re-watch movies, probably for the same reason. I feel like there are so many great stories out there, and I am still in a stage of life where my time feels very limited, so I don’t use it to repeat things.
Claire: I reread books. In fact, there are a few I will reread at certain points throughout the year: Teaching from Rest (Sarah Mackenzie) every year at back to school time; God Is in the Manger (Dietrich Bonhoeffer) every year at Advent; various Enneagram books for research and refreshment of ideas. It is rare, however, for me to reread a work of fiction.
Mark: I don’t read much fiction, so I can’t think of any fiction that I would read again, except maybe The Great Santini by Pat Conroy, or some of Walter Wangerin’s stories. I do have nonfiction books that I go back to again and again for reference, by Philip Yancy or Charles Swindoll.
Jocelyn: I do reread books, but I’m selective about which ones I do that with. Usually if I reread a novel, it’s not just so I can enjoy it again, but so I can learn from it as a writer. I read with a more critical eye: How did the author make me feel this way? Or, look at this brilliant technique for showing the passage of time! Or, wow, this small piece of character history makes me so much more sympathetic to him. That type of thing. And sometimes I read again just to enjoy the beautiful use of language. I’ve done this with Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, The Frontiersman’s Daughter by Laura Frantz, to name a few.
Kellie: I’ll reread and reference nonfiction if it’s full of juicy info. But not fiction. Life is too short and there are TOO MANY BOOKS!
Wesley: I actually don’t that often, although there are a few passages of books or short stories that I will go back and read on occasion. Sometimes it’s because I think there is something else to glean from the book that I might have missed the first time, and sometimes I just want to inhabit the world the book describes. Personally, I am more attracted to works of art—whether that be a book, an essay or a painting—that are more cagey, less willing to tell you what they’re about. To me at least, this treads the line between two things: I can endlessly reread a story knowing there’s no great reveal at the end, just enjoying the puzzle but also kind of hoping somewhere along the lines I’ll crack the code.
Brenda: I very seldom repeat fiction. I ditto Kellie’s comments. I reread and reference many favorite nonfiction books. They are friends who continue to teach me.
June: I reread To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee). That’s the only one, besides the Bible. I read [To Kill a Mockingbird] every few years. I love the way the words sound. It’s been read out loud around here. I spent some years growing up in Monroeville, Alabama. My aunt was a friend of Harper Lee. This aunt will be one hundred years old in November, and I’ll go to Monroeville for her party.
Scott: I always find new insights when I reread Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.
Renee: I tend to reread Battlefield of the Mind (Joyce Meyer) and The Secret Lives of Men (Christopher Blazina). I seem to glean a little more each time I read them.
Kathleen: I’ve reread a few books over the years. Sometimes I revisit Goodnight Moon (Margaret Wise Brown), The Velveteen Rabbit (Margery Williams), or The Giving Tree (Shel Silverstein) to reconnect with those days when my sons were young. Now I get to read them again to my grandsons. One of my all-time favorites that I’ve read at least three or four times over the years is A Woman of Independent Means by Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey. The last time I reread it was about ten years ago. I wanted to study how the author handled writing an entire novel in first person using letters and telegrams. I’ve read Pat Conroy’s The Great Santini at least four times, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale twice. Sometimes I’ll open a favorite book and read several passages to savor the feel of the story. The same with a few poetry collections. I might open at random and read whatever appears.
Becky: It is very unusual for me to reread a novel. I am having trouble remembering doing that, although beautiful prose like that of Pat Conroy or Abraham Verghese might induce me to reread their books. I can really see where writers would study the craft of novelists they admire. I often reread nonfiction books that help me live my life, faith, and values in a healthier way: Jesus Calling (Sarah Young) is a daily devotional book that I used three years in a row. The Bondage Breaker (Neil T. Anderson) and Telling Yourself the Truth (William Backus and Marie Chapian) have been helpful to me and have received a couple of readings each. This question has me pulling them both out again along with Mere Christianity. And of course the Bible is inexhaustible and is a part of my daily reading in various ways.
Stacy: I’ve only read two books twice. To Kill a Mocking Bird and Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen). To read a fiction book twice, I need a least a decade between my last read of it and they need to be timeless reads. I read them with a new perspective as I get older, it’s quite enjoyable.
Lisa: I’ve kept so many books with the intention of reading them again, but never seem to get around to it. What do I want to read again someday? Classic fiction like The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger), The Winter of Our Discontent (John Steinbeck) anything by John Updike, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Mark Twain), and of course To Kill a Mockingbird. After one book I read last year, l had the instant urge to turn back and read it again from page one: Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities. Wolfe is such a brilliant satirist, he can explain a scene in words that paints a perfect picture in your mind. Reading his satire is like watching a riveting movie. It’s readable cinematography, with clever, humorous insights about human nature and modern society.
Shari: When I was a kid there were certain books I’d read again and again, including The Arabian Nights, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and any of Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series! Later I reserved “do-overs” for classics: Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte), The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald), and To Kill a Mockingbird. Now I just read as many as I can, as fast as I can because I realized I’m never going to read all the amazing books I want to read!
Sarah: I have read a couple of books more than once! Sometimes it is to understand it better, however most of the time, it is because I desire to be “part of that world”, to quote Ariel. Some I have reread are: all the books in the Harry Potter series, A Series of Unfortunate Events (Lemony Snicket), Eragon (Christopher Paolini), The Help (Kathryn Stockett), and that’s just naming a few!
It’s hard to argue with readers who are eager for new literary horizons and don’t want to take time repeating books. Many devoted readers have voluminous lists of new books in their to-be-read stacks, with more new and intriguing titles always on the horizon. On the other hand, revisiting a familiar book is comforting, like spending time with an old friend. Good books of any genre have layers of meaning revealed by time and experience; so reading the same book at a different stage of life can provide a different perspective—on the book, on the world, or on life.
Whether for information, inspiration, or to spend time with familiar friends, there are plenty of reasons to reread or rediscover a favorite book. What book would you choose to read again? Leave your answers in the comment section.
Terri Barnes is a regular contributor to Books Make a Difference magazine, author of the book Spouse Calls: Messages From a Military Life, and senior editor at Elva Resa Publishing. Terri is an avid reader and rereader who, like her favorite author C.S. Lewis, “can’t imagine … really enjoying a book and reading it only once.”
This article first published September 2019.
Do You Reread Favorite Books?