Several months ago I wrote about movies that I had re-watched again and again; specifically, movies I had seen at least 5 times. I talked about why I’d ended up watching those films as much as I had, and about the movies themselves. I actually got a fairly big response to that blog posting – apparently lots of folks either liked the particular movies I mentioned, or they just shared the same habit of re-watching some of their own personal favorites.
I later realized that for some people, the urge to re-read favorite books is also strong. While for some, reading a book once and moving on in search of something new is the preferred method, for others the desire to re-visit a favorite title is compelling.
Probably one of the biggest examples is how people read and re-read the holy writings of the world’s various faiths. Or beyond that, for hundreds of years people have read the writings of the great poets, turning to them on multiple times. Shakespeare, as well, is a perennial favorite. I think part of the appeal in this class of writing is the depth of what is there – multiple readings reveal new insights, especially as we grow older.
Beyond the Bible, Wordsworth, and Shakespeare, multiple readings are also a joy for readers of fiction, especially if the work is longer or part of a series. I have read the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien multiple times, and so have others I’ve spoken to. I know a group of people who read and re-read the entire Harry Potter novels (in order, of course!) – sometimes on an annual basis. I’m also aware of the following popular novel series that are re-read by fans:
- The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
- The Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery
- The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
One of the keys to this particular category is that many of the series can be started by fairly young readers and still have enough depth and detail to make an older reader want to pick them up. The Harry Potter novels by J.K. Rowling (see earlier link), in particular, follow a young set of protagonists as they age to young adulthood. If read for the first time as a younger person, re-reading can evoke not only the pleasure of “discovering what happens” but also re-capturing in some sense the youth we may have had as first-time readers.
Another set of titles that are often re-read may or may not lead the reader to other books in what is actually a series, although many may not be aware there are sequels to the title that they are re-reading. Titles that come to mind are The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Wizard of Oz, A Wrinkle in Time, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or Tarzan of the Apes. [Although the latter title should make one want to read the next title in the series (The Return of Tarzan), as the first book really is a bit of a cliffhanger.]
Still another group of titles are those that are not necessarily part of a series, but where the author either creates a memorable heroine or hero or does such a strong job establishing the setting that they create a desire to re-visit the author’s creation. Classic examples of this might be Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Little Women by Louis May Alcott, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, or A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. (If you want to get a multitude of opinions from a group of Dickens fans, ask them to name the best of his 14 or so novels)
Besides individual titles, there are authors who have such a strong voice that people come back to their works, whether novels or short stories, repeatedly, regardless of genre or subject matter. Three such authors that come to mind for me are P.G. Wodehouse, Neal Stephenson, and Roger Zelazny. I would read or re-read pretty much anything they wrote. And I could name more, of course – all readers have favorite authors, but those three seem striking for how they create interest whether they are writing about golf, Baroque history, or the possible end of the world.
Finally, there are those “quirky” books that maybe no one else you know re-reads, but you find yourself picking them up again and again. I’ve heard of folks who re-read Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. I think the title I’ll pick as an illustration of this type is one from an author I just mentioned, Roger Zelazny.
Late in his life and writing career, he wrote a book called A Night in the Lonesome October. It was his last book, and one of his five personal favorites. The plot is pretty bizarre, incorporating a Chthulu-like end of the world scenario, and is narrated by Jack the Ripper’s dog. But one of the reasons I read it, besides the references to other novels, movies, and fictional characters, is that the book has thirty-one chapters, each linked to October 1-31, and for some reason, I have often picked it up on October 1st and read a chapter each night as the month progresses. I’ve done this enough times that, while it does not happen every year, it does seem to be becoming a tradition with me.
So do you have any books you re-read? Share some in the comments, if so; and happy re-reading!