Friday, July 8, 2011

To Reread or Not to Reread: That Is the Question

by Sara N.

A little book called A Dance with Dragons is coming out on Tuesday. No big deal. It's only the fifth book in George R.R. Martin's massively popular Song of Ice and Fire series, upon which HBO's Game of Thrones is based. It's a mere No. 1 on Amazon's bestseller list. It's just a 1,040-page tome that follows up on beloved characters that were last seen in a book published a decade ago.

Yeah. I'm a little excited.

However, the release of book five raises the question of rereading. Here's the dilemma:

You see, this book series is intricately plotted, with a sprawling cast of characters, many of them small but important. And when it's been a year (or five or 10) since you last read the preceding books, it verges on impossible to remember the names, motivations, actions and fates of all of these characters. To truly appreciate the nuances of the new book, I really should've reread books one through four ... all 3,500 pages of them.

I just couldn't do it. I have so many unread books on my to-read list that I couldn't devote that much of my free reading time to novels I've already finished, no matter how much I enjoyed them the first time. And the more I thought about it, I realized I probably haven't reread a fiction book since I was a tween and prone to obsessing over YA series. (Oh, Sunfire romances! How I loved you!) Short of taking a speed-reading course, I don't see my current system changing. I read a book and love it (or tolerate it or slam it shut in disgust after the last page), and then I pick up the next book on my TBR list, which seems to only grow and never shrink.

My husband, in contrast, rereads constantly. He's a fast reader, so he can whip through a whole fantasy series in a weekend. I envy his speed and the comfort he finds in his old, familiar favorites. At the same time, he regularly chews through new books, too. He's a reading machine. The two of us represent the yin and yang of reading. Me: slow and steady, seeking only the new. Him: fast and furious, mingling old favorites and fresh choices.

So I ask you: Which of us is right? Do you reread your old favorites? Do you get something new out of it that you didn't on the first read? Am I missing out?
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  1. If it's outside of 10 years, I re-read. I also re-read if I missed something huge and didn't find out until after I read an article or had a conversation.

  2. I like to reread. It's like visiting old friends.

  3. Mrs. O re-reads. I do not. My attitude: no matter how much I loved the book on its first reading, live is too short, and my unread book stack is too high. I also find that I come up to speed pretty quickly if I'm reading a book in a series I've been in before. But no doubt Mrs. O finds nuance that I miss.

    -- Chip

  4. Chip, you sound like me, and your Mrs. sounds just like my Mr. I just finished "Dune" for the first time, and my husband was able to recite passages practically from memory when we were discussing it -- that's how much he rereads.

  5. I'm a chronic re-reader. I re-read my favorite series over and over again. I re-read I Will Fear No Evil at least once a year.

    When the Wheel of Time's last book comes out, I am going to do a full re-read of the series. That's right, all thirteen of them. I've probably read The Fires of Heaven (book 5 of WoT) six times. But I haven't been as thorough with the rest. So, I feel like A Memory of Light warrants a thorough rereading since it's the culmination of all of the Prophecies of the Dragon. Seeing all the pieces fulfilled and what few things are left to wrap up is part of the fun. As soon as Sanderson gets closer to having AMoL done, I'm gonna make with the rereading. It's gonna take awhile.

  6. I re-read on occasion. I'd love to come back to my favourite books more often, and if I were able to read a whole series in just one weekend, I absolutely would. But I'm not, and I don't have as much time to read as I would like anyway, so I try to divide the time I have between a lot of new (to me) and the occasional old book.

    My boy friend never re-reads, either. I couldn't do this. The knowledge that I'm not ever going to "meet" those characters again once I've been through the last page would make me so, so unhappy. I'm with Danielle: It's like visiting old friends. And I dearly miss some of them.

  7. I re-read my favorites over and over again. I love finding new books to read too. There are some books I have nearly committed to memory. Whenever I am reading a book I can tell early on if it will be a re-read.