Why would anyone read the same book more than once?
I’m Josh Gastin, I’ve read The Lord of the Rings 14 times, and I’m here to answer that question.
First off, I will readily admit that 14 is far too many times to read a book and I can’t exactly recommend that anyone else go as far as that. I will also admit that I’m currently reading The Lord of the Rings again and will probably hit 30 or maybe 50 times total in my life. Though I read other books two or three times and feel that that’s enough, Tolkien’s work is special to me and reading it again has always felt worthwhile.
Now let’s get the economics of rereading out of the way. I got my degree in economics, and ever since then it’s been hard to shake the analytic mindset of graphs and utility maximization. So, in economics there’s something called the economics of information. The idea is that people usually continue to make the choices that they already know they like, since gathering information about other options would take time and energy, whereas keeping with what you’ve read/eaten/done before guarantees satisfaction. Put differently, why choose more work and uncertain results when you could choose no work and definite happiness? You can blame it for the popularity of fast food chains, brand popularity in general and even the unending deluge of superhero movies.
That explains a little bit of why I enjoy rereading, but not all of it, and it’s the rest of the picture that I find fascinating. What really makes rereading so rich is that a book starts to become a conversation between you and the author. You start noticing subtleties in their writing and get a better idea of how they think. That’s my favorite part. I love understanding how things work, and people most of all. But, at least for me, it’s not easy to keep that level of focus on the author’s writing style the first time you read something. You’re following the thread of the story and trying to keep numerous characters straight in your head. When you’re reading it a second or third time, however, you’re less focused on what happens next, since you already know, and you can dive deeper into understanding the book as a whole.
Of course, not every book is worth rereading (many survive on novelty instead of substance) Nor will every person enjoy the process of rereading, but that’s alright. I’m not here to force rereading on anyone so much as to explore it and encourage you to try it out to see for yourself. Something to consider asking yourself would be why you read in the first place. Everyone approaches books a little differently, so perhaps if you read to pass time or you like to stick to genre fiction you might be better served by looking for your next good book. Personally, what inspires me to read a book again is when it has a very effective level of detail, and when that detail creates an immersive world. Some stories do that in under 100 pages, like Antigone, but others, like Les Miserables span well over a 1,000.
The ideal companions to books with immersive worlds are readers who fully engage their imagination while reading. I think that the people who will get the most out of rereading are the ones who daydream a little bit while they read. I know I do; I get caught up in what’s going on and start letting my mind wander off into the world of the story. That feeling of immersion is definitely something that I come back for, and it often gets better after a few times through a good book. Especially with fantasy or science fiction, where the book’s imagined world has internal rules, the escapist potential of the story can increase as you become more familiar with how it all works.
That’s the underlying reason that good books are worth revisiting: experiencing a writer’s world speaks to our lives in our world. All the art that we create is made by an act that references God’s creative acts, whatever the artist’s motive. The ability to take an idea and realize it lets composers, writers, makers and all artists bring us closer to understanding God’s nature. Witnessing these small acts of creation, we are better able to understand our creator. I believe that revisiting art takes us deeper, whether that be listening to a favorite song regularly, always coming back to a particular painting in the gallery or, in this case, rereading books. Becoming more familiar with the piece gives us a better insight into the author’s choices and labor.
Now, maybe the idea of reading a book a second time is a stretch, so if you want to test the waters a little bit before diving into another full read through, try this: Choose a book you liked and jump back into your favorite part. Whether it’s a whole chapter or just a single scene, your ability to pick up the story, the setting and even evoke the same feelings as your first read might surprise you. That brief taste could be all you need in order to rekindle your interest and launch you into a second read.
On the other hand, here’s a challenge if you already do have a few favorite books that you’ve read more than once: are there other books that you didn’t enjoy that deserve a second chance? Reading a book only once might not be enough. Great stories have so much to offer that they absolutely require more than one read. Not only should you consider revisiting books you already like, but you may have to in order to appreciate what the author did.
I love rereading. It adds richness to great books, and it imprints them on your mind. You can get even more immersed in a book on a second or third read. Best of all, you start to develop an understanding of the author, even to the point that you might feel like you know them. Getting to know an excellent artist can help us to better appreciate what goes into making art, give us insight for creating on our own or it can just be enjoyable to have them as a role model. Finally, when we read a book that sets itself apart and makes an impact on our lives, we probably owe it to ourselves to read through it again to better understand it. Good books deserve to be cherished. Now, you can probably cherish a book without reading it 14 times. But do you really want to take a that risk? I know I don’t.
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