April 18, 2012

visiting old friends

When I love a book, chances are I will re-read it dozens of times. I actually have a rotation of books that I read annually. One of my high school English teachers chastised me for this practice.

"There are so many books in the world, Laura," she said. "Why would you waste your time reading one again?"

At the time I blew off her comment. After all, it is my life and my time. I can do what I want.

In the 10 years that passed since my English teacher and I's exchange, I have given her question and opinion more thought. While I can see her point — there are a lot of books, and I will never be able to read all of them — I also realize I have a good reason for doing what I do.

•  Re-reading a book feels like catching up with old friends. I've heard people say "some of my best friends are books," and for me it is true. After spending hours bonding with a book and falling in love with the characters and the story, I often miss them when I read the last page. When I pick it up and read it again, even though I know what they will say and what will happen, I still feel like I'm checking in with these friends.

•  Old books are dependable and less likely to disappoint. It is a risk you take every time you read a book, watch a movie/ TV, listen to a song, etc. You will either like the book or you will not. Every so often, after reading several books that are OK, but I did not fall in love with (or worse, reading one I don't care for), all I want is to read something I know I will love. I like knowing that for a few hours, I can escape to somewhere I love.

•  They are useful study materials. As writers, we should read books in our genre to become better at our craft. I hear that advice constantly. For me, every time I re-read a book I love, it serves as a learning opportunity. I discover what it is about that story I like, and it gives me ideas for how to make my own writing better.

•  It's fun. When reading a good book, each time you will discover something new or find another layer. Parts of it are definitely familiar, but in the best cases you will discover another part of the story to love.

Now I'm curious: What are your favorite stories to re-read?

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  1. Love to re-read for the very reasons you mentioned. Tops on the list are Austen, LIW, Dickens, LMM, and James Herriot. And Les Mis, but not the rest of Hugo.

  2. I find myself re-reading Ann Lamott. She is witty, real, and offers frank yet inspirational perspective on both writing and life.