January 15, 2007 - Issue #251
From the Desk of Anne Marble:
To Reread or Not To Reread
When I was young, I reread books all the time. Most of my favorites came
from the library, and I just checked them out whenever I wanted to reread
them. I reread books all the time - everything from The Big Joke
Game to The Prince of Central Park to The
Spaceship under the Apple Tree series. Even as I got older, I reread
some of my favorite adult books, such as The Rosary Murders.
In those days I had more time to read, and less access to bookstores, and
thus no TBR pile (yet). Or maybe this was because an important part of
growing up is having someone read a favorite story to you over and over
again. What better was to capture that than rereading? But now, with time
constraints and a TBR pile, I rarely reread.
I began to contemplate the habit of rereading over the summer, when watching
my teen-aged nephew read books at the beach. I gave him a copy of James
Rollins' thriller Amazonia and Eric Flint's alternative
history novel 1632 and then noticed that he had read both
through at least twice in less than a week. Later, he got another thriller
and read that once or twice. Ironically, 1632 was one of my
few rereads this year, and I finished it on my way to the beach, just in
time to give it to my nephew.
Seeing my nephew immerse himself over and over again in the same worlds
brought back memories. Except for 1632, it seemed so long
since I had indulged in rereading. I know I'm rare among romance fans. From
what I read on board, many reread their favorites often. Some classify
books by whether or not they plan to reread them. For example, Varina
admits that she sometimes grades a book down a little if she thinks she
won't be able to reread it. She gave Raine Cantrell's Tarnished
Hearts a B+ instead of an A- because she thought the villains were
"too slimy to wade through again." Because she rereads books every year, a
book's potential to hold her interest again, can be a factor in her original
enjoyment of it.
While most readers don't take rereading that much to heart, rereading is a
big part of the romance reader community. A romance reader named, Shelly
tells us that she keeps romances that rate from A to B+ for rereading even
though she doesn't always get around to it. To Shelly, revisiting a favorite
romance is like coming home. "Familiar people and situations that can take
you away to someplace warm and exciting and maybe nostalgic. Kind of like
going home for Thanksgiving minus the calories." Books that aren't so
comforting get different treatment. While Shelly loves Chelsea Quinn
Yarbro's St. Germain series, she generally doesn't reread them because she
finds them too depressing. Compare that to a romance, where you know you'll
get that HEA.
Like Shelly, there are some books I adore, but can't imagine rereading.
These are books that are good enough to keep on a DIK shelf, but are too
wrenching to reread. M. J. Engh's SF novel Arslan sits on my
DIK shelf. It's one of those love-it-or-hate-it books, and I loved it. But
I can't imagine rereading the story of an Asian dictator who takes over the
U.S. and sets up his headquarters in a small town, after some shocking acts
of brutality in a school. The novel is full of horrid events, made all the
worse because they take place in a small town. Do I really want to reread
the brutal incidents that powered this novel? Uhm, not really; I don't want
to reread Arslan though the book includes incredibly complex
characters. Rereading a romance never presents this problem, even if it is
one with violence and brutality. After all, the romance is going to end
happily, no matter what happens.
I am not alone in this. Another romance reader, Dolly posted that she likes
revisiting a story because she can experience it without getting angsty
about how the story will work out. Dolly likes listening to audio versions
of favorite books. It gives her a chance to revisit a story while driving or
doing major housecleaning projects - without getting angsty about how the
plot will work out.
Dolly made me think of something else, the joys of rereading when you are
sick or feeling bad. Dolly's a big Gabaldon fan and she listened to
Outlander while recuperating from surgery. She found herself
Karen W said something similar. Karen rereads when she's
sick and wants a comfort read, or when she's read several bad books in a row
and doesn't want to read anything new, or when she's had an awful day and
just wants "to read something warm and fuzzy." Lynne Connolly turns to
rereading when she's sick or feeling down, or when she doesn't want to be
disappointed by an inferior book. Or when she simply wants to revisit "old
I wish I had thought of Dolly's audio book solution when I was sick. When
recuperating from surgery, I tried rereading Anne Rice's Cry from
Heaven, and it didn't work. I have used audio books to relive
certain favorites. Much depends on the narrator. I had to give up on one
thriller because the narrator put me to sleep. But I loved listening
to F. Murray Abraham narrate The Phantom of the Opera because
he brought the characters to life.
While Dolly and Karen rereads books to take their minds off chores, problems
or illness, Falcon, a frequent AARList poster, rereads because she likes
revisiting the characters and the story. While she knows how it her book
will turn out, each reread is like "a different ride." When she rereads, she
feels anticipation, just as she would if she were reading that book for the
first time. This lets her relive the excitement and adventure of the story
as well as letting her achieve that same satisfaction when she reaches the
What books do we like to revisit? Ironically, it's not necessarily the books
we consider the best. For example, when I was a teen, I was blown away by
William Sleator's angst futuristic young adult novel House of
Stairs, about a group of misfit teens trapped in a building of
endless sets of stairs. Though it was short, I never reread it. It was too
intense and creepy. I was more likely to reread something like Beverly
Cleary's Henry and Ribsy books. And I reread one children's mystery book ...
well, just because. It took place in a beach community, and I loved visiting
those characters and wishing I could stay with them and play in the waves
all the time.
Similarly, Karen W has noticed this phenomenon among her rereads. The books
she rereads might be flawed, but she keeps them because of the way they make
her feel. Her rereads tends to be comfort reads - something she turns to
when she wants to feel "warm and fuzzy inside." At the same time, she can
love a book and yet never want to return to it. What makes the difference
between a reread and something Karen doesn't necessarily want to read again?
For Karen, the characters are the most important aspect. Some characters are
so appealing to her that she wants to visit them again. But if a book's
characters aren't as nice, she won't reread their story, even if she enjoyed
Another reason to reread it to increase our understanding of what an author
is trying to say. Rereading can help us get a handle on a complicated
series and increase our understanding of the latest book. Gretchen rereads
books in a series whenever a new book comes out. She'll read previous books
by Diana Gabaldon whenever a new Outlander book comes out. She'll
also reread earlier books in Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover series and J.
K. Rowling's Harry Potter series before reading a new book in those series.
This kind of rereading can prevent a lot of problems. I know how it feels
like to get back into a complex series without rereading what came before.
This summer, I reread 1632 because I wanted to read the other
books in the series (as well as the anthologies). I planned to skim over
1632, but once I started it, I ended up sinking back into the
novel. That was a good thing because I enjoyed it more the second time
around. Some of the plot elements that originally bothered me (such as the
way one of the villains falls out of sight for a big chunk of the book) no
longer bugged me. I also came to like the writing more, and I appreciated
the romantic subplots most of all the second time around, probably because I
knew who would end up together.
In the case of complex series or individual books, that sense of finding
something new every time you reread a book drives a lot of rereaders. Lynne
Connolly rereads Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond books. "You read first for the
story - the breathtaking roller-coaster ride that is Lymond's adventures -
the second, maybe to clarify some of the ambiguities in the text, that don't
spoil reading the book as an adventure, but things I'd like to know more
about, then there's a read for the subtexts, and the poetry - you just never
Like Lynne, author Tracy Grant rereads some books because the story is so
rich that she wants to capture the nuances. She also rereads stories to
revisit old friends as comfort reads. In some cases, she rereads a book (or
just a scene) to figure out how the author does it. (She reread some scenes
from the Lymond books for just this reason.)
I'm no stranger to rereading individual scenes, but unlike Tracy, I usually
do it just because I'm such a book geek. Even if I don't always have the
time to reread, I can always revisit my favorite parts of a book and get
back that old familiar feeling. I was a huge Dragonlance fan; I used to
reread the scenes with some of my favorite characters (particularly
Raistlin). I particularly enjoyed rereading emotional or dramatic scenes. As
far as rereading romances goes, I reread the love scene on the steps in
Theresa Weir's Cool Shade more times than I care to admit. And
I used to reread parts of one of Valerie Vayle's swashbuckling romances
quite often. (In a time when most historical romances were bodice rippers
full of unheroic heroes, her book was fun, and it helped wash the taste of
some of the other books out of my mouth.)
Like Tracy Grant, Kelli started out rereading to learn more about more about
the mechanics of writing a great story. She found it fascinating to reread
older romances written only from the heroine's POV because "trying to see
things from the hero's POV when you have nothing but his actions to go on is
very enlightening." However, now she finds herself rereading just because
she liked the story.
Varina also rereads books to relive particularly scenes or relationships in
those books but she also understands the scenes better on rereading. She's
read the Christmas Eve scene in LaVyrle Spencer's repeatedly
Forgiving and, even after reading it a second or third time,
the scene isn't spoiled. It is more poignant because she knows the details
and background so well.
Like Varina, I recently had several "Aha!" moments after rereading (and I
should be blushing to admit that I reread this!) V. C. Andrews'
Flowers in the Attic. I read this book soon after it first came
out, becoming one of the first teenagers to get hooked on that blasted
series. I had pretty much grown out of Andrews' stories (particularly after
reading My Sweet Audrina), and I couldn't get into any of the
books written by the ghostwriter after her death. But out of nostalgia
(prodded by an on-line discussion), I reread Flowers not long ago.
From the very beginning, I was amazed by some of the foreshadowing I had
missed the first time around. For example, in the very first chapter, hints
about the mother's greed and flightiness are dangled right in front of the
reader. In the minus column, I had utterly forgotten how wordy V. C. Andrews
could be, not to mention how melodramatic. So while I enjoyed (to a point!)
seeing the plot unfold again, the writing style and overblown emotions
sometimes seemed to hammer on my brain.
Rereading doesn't always work of course. While Varina liked rereading
Lavyrle Spencer's Forgiving, she didn't enjoy rereading that
author's Morning Glory. Instead of "enjoying the ride," she
got impatient with the scenery. She also noticed those little "glitches" in
the story, as well as noticing things such as purple prose. She no longer
found it as gripping as she did the first time, so maybe that's why so many
parts of it became distractions. And maybe this is why she is reluctant to
reread some of her favorites.
A number of readers on AARList seemed to have problems rereading. Karen W
told us that, except for a select few books, her rereading experience has
been frustrating. When she rereads a book, she keeps noticing the flaws.
Consequently, even if she really likes a book, she usually trades it in.
Karla has also been frustrated by rereads. Like Karen, she rereads
infrequently. Diane Farr's The Fortune Hunter and an older
Amanda Quick both disappointed her because she knew what was going to
My biggest problem with rereading happens when my tastes change.
There are some books I haven't dared reread, such as Rebecca Brandewyne's
Passion Moon Rising and Upon a Moon-Dark Moor.
At the time, I enjoyed them even as I rolled my eyes at their flaws. If I
tried rereading them today, I'd probably wind up flinging them across the
room the first time the hero ordered the heroine around or the first time
the heroine did something TSTL. I also attempted reading early Kathleen
Woodiwiss again to see if I could still enjoy her books, despite the very
alpha heroes. In one case, I didn't even make it to the appearance of the
hero because I was too annoyed by the prose.
I won't give up on rereading nor will I stop saving copies of books in case
I might reread them. There is something about books we enjoyed that is
meaningful, even when we don't know when we will get to them. It's natural.
Jo Beverley remembers rereading a lot as a child, although she doesn't have
as much time to reread now because she is so busy writing. "After all, as
children we all do that, don't we? Asking someone to read something to us
again and again." Jo wonders if rereading is a way to recreate that
For all my ... issues... with the prose, rereading Flowers in the
Attic was a fascinating experience that allowed me to relive V. C.
Andrews' power as a writer and indulge in a bit of nostalgia. And rereading
1632 was a joy. Maybe I should try this rereading thing more
often. Now where did I put that Valerie Vayle romance that I used to
Questions To Consider:
Do you like to reread, and if so, do you reread often or just when you're
sick or depressed or in a rut?
If you reread, why? And how do you pick the books to reread?
If you don't reread, then why not? Also, do you make exceptions, and if so,
what are those exceptions?
Are there some books you will reread, and some books you know you will
never reread? What are the differences between the types of books?
Have you ever had a reread go bad? For example, have you ever tried to
reread an old favorite and found that you hated it?
Do you give books a different grade if you know you probably won't reread
it, or is the rereadability separate from your personal grade?
||Post your comments and/or questions to our Potpourri Message Board
(AAR uses BYRON for its romance reference needs)