Rereading and Rereading and Rereading

Cover for Bookmarked Roundtables

Do you reread? Maybe you want to spend a little more time in a beloved universe, or maybe you want to remind yourself who betrayed the duchess in book 3 of your favorite series before book 4 comes out next week? Whatever your reasons, they’re good ones! I love rereading, and I asked several WWAC contributors to share their own habits and traditions of rereading as well. As you can imagine, their reasons vary just as much as the texts they revisit. 

Kate Kosturski: One tradition I started last year for myself was to re-read Amazing Spider-Man #36, which was their issue in response to September 11th. It’s an issue that pays tribute to the heroes of that day—our first responders—while working through the emotions of helplessness, fear, and grief that even the strongest of people felt that day. It’s a testament to the late Stan Lee’s legacy of superheroes carrying the human condition as part of their daily burden. It’s a show of the best of humanity rising up against the worst of humanity. For me, someone who was safe in New Jersey on that day but still witnessed the horrors in Lower Manhattan in real time through her office window, it’s my way to continue my own healing.

Amazing Spider-Man #36, October 2001

Claire Napier: I reread according to necessity of flavour. It’s not really a literal flavour, more of a sense of aesthetic, but I navigate it the same way as I do snacks when I’m hungry, by meditating a little on what the palate cries out for. I reread a lot, because mood mediation is a useful opportunity to have, and because I read fast and always did: it’s easy to run out of unreads on the bookshelf when you’re voracious and unable to buy books on your own. Young habits die hard. But, it’s a useful one, because as it was cheaper for my parents it’s now cheaper for me. Even so, not every book is ripe for reread, even if it’s of the correct mood or feel. Some are too easily remembered; some aren’t the right kind of prose (either not tangy enough in sentence structure or too diverting when what I want is to sail through the plot); some are too long or too short for the circumstance; some have some other kind of momentary blemish. You really need a strongly honed divining rod. When I was younger I reread to get to sleep/to fill in the time otherwise taken by insomnia. Allstars include: The Angel of Nitshill Road, Flour Babies (big up Anne Fine!), The Worst Witch, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and The Princess Diaries 1-4. If I was (not) sleeping alone and found any of these to hand, I’d probably, OK definitely, still haul’em in.

The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy

Wendy Browne: I don’t really have a tradition, but in the past few years, I’ve made a point of rereading some of the books I read in and around high school. So far, I’ve gotten through The Handmaid’s Tale and Brave New World, both of which really surprised me on second reading because the themes in them are so stark and yet, I really don’t recall us exploring those themes in class as deeply as I think we should have. I do recall doing two awesome projects based on Brave New World and writing large paragraphs about Demolition Man in my subsequent essay. 

There are two particular series that I have reread a few times now, and will probably do so again when I have more time on my hands. Namely, Jacqueline Carey’s original Kushiel trilogy and Bernard Cornwell’s The Warlord Chronicles trilogy. Both were recommendations from good friends from my Livejournal days, and the books have stuck with me since then.

The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood, Anchor Books, 1998

Laura StumpWhen I was younger, my re-read of choice was simple: Once a year, give or take, I’d read the entire Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings, with an occasional re-read of The Prydain Chronicles thrown in for good measure. Eventually adulthood intervened, and I just didn’t have time to indulge in both new books and my old favorites. Rereading—well, reading at all, if I’m honest — fell by the wayside. Now that my son is older and I have begun to reclaim time for myself, I have turned my focus in a different direction: I want to spend my time reading and rereading books by female authors. That focus has recalled Anne McCaffrey’s Pegasus series, brought me back to Tamora Pierce, sent me off again into the wilderness to deal with Patricia C. Wrede’s dragons, and reminded me of Sue Grafton’s alphabet murder mysteries, all books I first read in elementary and middle school. Along the way, I’ve had the good fortune to have discovered N.K. Jemisin, S.A. Chakraborty, and Justine Ireland, among others. My rereading list for the next few years has become infinitely more diverse and fascinating as a result, and, for the first time in a long time, I’m genuinely excited about what I get to sit down and read over and over again.

Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

Paulina Przystupa: Until recently, I was not a re-reader, nor a re-watcher. Once I consumed a story or show I was content to have experienced it and would move on to something new. However, in the last few years, as I’ve regained reading time via audiobooks and comics, there are a number of series that I’ve reread. Some, like InuYasha, were for practical purposes. I wanted to finish the series but it had been so long that I forgot where I was. Essentially I was reading those for the first time. Others, like The Immortals quartet by Tamora Pierce (and actually almost her entire oeuvre by now), were because I wanted to make sure that if I recommended the series to others, for things like book bingo or as my favorite books, they weren’t secretly awful or filled with awkward things I didn’t know as an adult. So far, like Wendy mentions, I’ve found additional meaning in most of these and when I see awkward parts they stimulate my thinking and make me happy I’ve decided to pick them up again. 

Emily Lauer: As a kid every year at Christmas my parents would read me the book The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden, and thus my ideas about rereading traditions have a childlike holiday glow about them, even though my actual rereading practices were far less ritualized. I reread voraciously, notably The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, and the first volume of Elfquest.

Traditions of rereading a specific book annually are helpful to me because they limit decision fatigue at key times of the year.

Now I reread my favorite novel by Diana Wynne Jones, Deep Secret, every spring at my favorite academic conference. It suits the purpose because the book takes place largely at a convention in a big, confusing hotel that turns out to be a magical node, and the carpets and mirrors in the hallways of conference centers always make me feel like that anyhow. It also serves the extremely practical purpose of giving me something I enjoy reading during the conference, but not something debilitatingly new and distracting. I couldn’t, for instance, read a new murder mystery during the conference and not feel mentally torn. In fact, I have recently realized that I should have similar rereading traditions for the ends of semesters when I am required to briefly become a sleek, well-oiled grading machine, focused on reading and giving feedback to student writing.

Less regularly than that stringent tradition of rereading, I also tend to seasonally reread my favorite Peter Wimsey mysteries by Dorothy Sayers. There have been many summers in which I reread Have His Carcase, which takes place in the summer. Often this is followed by a fall reread of Gaudy Night, which takes place in the fall, and an also-fall reread of Busman’s Honeymoon, which is not seasonally linked, but comes next and last in the series and is fun and cozy. 

Book cover for Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones

Overall, I think the major reasons for rereading are twofold: one is to settle comfortably into a known feeling, as Claire likens to selecting a snack to suit a particular craving; and the other is to revisit a text with a different life perspective deepening our knowledge as Wendy alludes to with her current plan to reread texts assigned in school, or as Paulina so kindly does to make sure her book recommendations hold up to her fond memories.

Now. I recently wrote a list of reasons I avoid reading. I’m not the reading police. I’m not going to tell you there is any wrong way to reread, but rather, I will say that considering our reasons for rereading might increase the enjoyment we feel in it. Enjoy! And then: enjoy again. 

Emily Lauer

Emily Lauer

Emily Lauer lives in Manhattan with her husband, daughter and dog. She teaches writing and literature at Suffolk County Community College where she studies comics, kids' books, adaptations and visual culture. She is a former Pubwatch Editor for WWAC, and frankly, there is a lot more gray in her hair than there was when this profile picture was taken.