photo by Lin Kristensen; used with permission (Creative Commons)

I have always been an avid rereader. My dad, who in my childhood was forever introducing me to new authors he thought I’d like (to my everlasting gratitude), would see me reading Sal Fisher at Girl Scout Camp yet again and give a groan of despair. It didn’t take me long to notice that he did a lot of rereading himself, though, although I admit that The Tempest is more likely to turn up new subtleties on the fourth reading than Sal Fisher.

I do reread books to squeeze more juice out of them, though that’s not the only reason. I just like visiting with an old friend. If I liked them once, I’ll like them again, and I’ll laugh with an extra pleasure at the funny lines, as one does when reminded just how funny an old friend can be (I’m looking at you, Lawrence Block), and the sad parts have an extra poignancy when I know they’re coming but the characters don’t. The books I reread regularly tend to be the ones that had a strong effect on me the first time I read them, and also feature characters with whom I want to spend more time: To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee), Animal Dreams (Barbara Kingsolver), American Gods (Neil Gaiman), The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett), The Left Hand of Darkness (Ursula K. LeGuin), and The Dispossessed (ditto) come to mind. Now that I’ve discovered the pleasures of Austen and Dickens, I think they’re going to become frequent rereads. But don’t be deceived by the depth of these books. I reread Terry Pratchett, not just the ones that really moved me or made me think (which tend to rise immediately to the rank of my favorites: Small Gods, Feet of Clay, Jingo, Reaper Man), but all of them, because he makes me laugh.

I also reread mysteries, which may seem particularly bizarre, but as I don’t read mysteries in order to figure out the puzzle in the first place (since I never can), knowing whodunnit doesn’t diminish the enjoyability. In fact, I am particularly drawn to the ones with the unforgettable solution, such as any one of Agatha Christie’s best, because I can watch how she’s laying clues and red herrings and know that I would never, ever spot them on my own. It’s like watching a magician at work after he’s shown you how the trick is done: the magic is not diminished, but doubled.

Rereading is a bit of a drug. Several months after moving and unpacking most of our books, we finally got the mysteries and scifi on their shelves, and my new reading has slowed way down as I read old favorites. More challenging things stay on my “currently reading” list for a couple of weeks, even though I’m a fast reader, because on a Sunday afternoon when I want to do nothing but veg, I reread Lawrence Block’s Burglar books (and oh how I wish he would write a few more. I don’t care if the places Bernie Rhodenbarr chooses to burgle have an improbably high murder rate rivalling St. Mary Mead’s, I just want to spend another 200 pages with him). In the months when the mind candy was still in boxes, I read more new-to-me fiction than in any period of my adulthood–with the possible exception of last spring, when I also read a lot of new stuff, and for the same reason: we were living in Mexico and had no access to the hundreds of already-read books that usually line our walls, and getting a book out of the library that I own and have already read seemed silly. It has been really great to read so much new stuff, and as my mortality presses on me–my gray hairs multiply, my daughter leaps from newborn to four-year-old in a moment, people my age die–I become ever more aware of the profundity of the t-shirt slogan: “So many books, so little time.”

I recently learned that some people don’t reread very often, and so I wonder: Do you reread a lot? Any books or genres in particular? What makes you pick up a book for a second, third, fourth, umpteenth time–or not? What are you reading or rereading now?

ETA: Welcome to everyone who found their way here via Freshly Pressed, and thanks for all the comments!  I’m sorry I can’t respond as fast as you can comment, but I’m loving hearing about what you all reread, or don’t.  And d’oh, Harry Potter is definitely on my frequently-read list.  I’ve read each one at least three times, and some many more than that, since discovering the series in 2000.

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