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
Some 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.
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.
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
[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.