Thursday, 12 June 2014

Here's Why You Should Reread Your Favourite Novels (Again and Again)

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Master those books you have. Read them thoroughly. Bathe in them until they saturate you. Read and reread them…digest them. Let them go into your very self. Peruse a good book several times and make notes and analyses of it.
-Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students

Reasons to reread The Great GatsbySome readers may find rereading illogical: why return to an old book when you could start a new one that you might enjoy more? Yes, it is certainly enjoyable and beneficial to read widely and in unfamiliar directions, but rereading holds more benefits than many of us would expect.

I currently reread Tolstoy's War and Peace every August. It is a time consuming experience I will certainly admit, but the benefits far outweigh any arduousness of length and getting to know nearly six hundred characters. Each time August comes around, I find myself reacquainted with my favourite Russian princes and princesses and their lofty meditations on life, beauty and meaning.

People may shake their heads in disbelief that such a long book (without pictures) could be enjoyable, but, according to a recent study in the Journal of Consumer Research [see footnote], it makes complete sense.


Rereading a favourite book "reignites" the positive feelings we first felt


This study focuses on "repeated hedonic experiences", or the repeated carrying-out of activities we gain pleasure from in order to receive more enjoyment and positive feelings. This has much to do with rereading, and explains why I haven't yet got bored of the almighty Russian tome I gained so much from on my first reading. 

If you particularly enjoyed reading Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie as a child, or The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Wiesberger on a particularly relaxing cruise holiday, it may do you good to return to such books. Returning to familiar stories that we enjoyed the first time round, or read during an especially happy period of our lives, can on each rereading "reignite" the positive feelings we originally felt. 

Why not re-read Where'd You Go, Bernadette this summer?

This applies to music, art and other enjoyable experiences too
The repeated contact or reacquaintance with a hedonistic experience, be it reading, a piece of music, or something entirely different, results in a "renewed appreciation" of the experience and even provides mental health benefits, the research suggests.

Some participants in the study did worry they would be considered odd for repeating consumption, yet many concluded that repeat experiences led to heightened awareness and pleasure. Therefore, we should not hesitate to go back and reread books – or re-do experiences – that we’ve enjoyed beforehand: there is a high chance that they will appeal to us again.


What about the other reasons to reread great novels?


As well as being enjoyable, rereading allows us to increase our knowledge of a book’s plot or characters, and therefore certainly form more developed and well-considered judgements. 

If a novel contains a character that we can relate to, time spent rereading may allow us to further compare our own life and situation with that of the character, and as a result find encouragement, reassurance, or a guide forwards. To read more on this, check out my post on fiction as a simulation of real life.


Create your own rereading plan


1. Try jotting down on paper some of the books that you have most enjoyed reading


Any book that brings up positive memories or feelings is worth noting down, as is any novel with an immediately memorable plot or character.

For some inspiration, you can take a look at my list of books I'd like to reread for years to come.


2. After making your list, consider the following:


  • Do you have any of these books tucked away on a bookshelf?
  • Do you think any of the books you have listed would fit your current situation in life, or make a situation that you are facing easier to deal with? 
  • Do you need a pick-me-up that a feel-good novel you once read on holiday could provide?


3. Dust off your dog-eared paperback and enjoy the book a second time around



Rereading books reignites the happy feelings we originally felt


This blog article is a condensed version of the chapter "Rereading" from my ebook, Tolstoy Therapy: A Fiction Prescription


[i] “The Temporal and Focal Dynamics of Volitional Reconsumption: A Phenomenological Investigation of Repeated Hedonic Experiences”. The Journal of Consumer Research. Electronically published 28 October, 2011. JSTOR. Web.


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2 comments:

Brian Joseph said...

I love the reading plan thing. I have more own. It is organized, structured, thought out and systematic. I almost never follow it :)


Rereading is essential for all the reasons that you mentioned. As you alluded to it really opens up aspects of a work that are often missed the first time. I THINK that it was Harold Bloom who said something to the effect that real reading was the only way to really read deeply.


The issue for me is time. I need more of it to read!



Thanks for another great post!

tolstoytherapy said...

Haha, that's reassuring to hear, Brian! Sometimes I gain so much from following a systematic reading plan, but other times it all goes out the window :)


Rereading is one of my favourite ways to enjoy great books but, like you've said, the real issue is certainly time constraints! And you're right, Harold Bloom has said so much of value about rereading - thank you for the reminder!