Talking to other writers (and readers in general), one thing that I’ve heard a number of times that surprises me is how few people re-read books. Other than a few people who mention reading great favorites (like The Lord of the Rings) once a year, the practice seems to be looked down upon.
This is weird to me. I’ve been rereading books my whole life. I just kind of assumed that it was a normal thing. I mean, I know there are so many books out there, but that doesn’t mean they are your books, you know?
Part of this, like all of my neuroses, stems from my childhood. As a kid in a fairly poor, non-academic family, most of my reading material came from school libraries and whatever books I could buy with my birthday money.
Note that I didn’t mention public libraries — which would have involved parents filling out paperwork, providing bills and proof of residence, and shuttling me back and forth to the library. That wasn’t the kind of thing my family did. We stayed at home. We watched TV.
So it seems natural to me to reread books. When all you have are a handful of them, and no opportunity to get more, you devour them over and over again. I had a handful of Babysitter’s Club, Boxcar Kids, and Little House on the Prairie books that I read when I was young. Then the first two Harry Potter books from my Grandma Mildred one Christmas. Books that got read until they started to fall apart.
Somewhere in storage, I think I still have my copy of Order of the Phoenix. What was once a glorious and precious hardcover book, after years of reading in various locales (including the pool and the bathtub), had turned into a paperback.
I never really experienced the joy of having a librarian on your side until high school, where the effervescent Ms. Cain would feed me a steady diet of great books — everything from The Perks of Being a Wallflower to The Namesake, to Twilight. And having that was something that I sorely missed in the years afterward.
But, even after losing that great librarian fix, going into adulthood was very similar to being a broke kid — except, this time I had the internet at my fingertips. buying e-books when they went on sale was a great way to expand my reading horizons, but it still wasn’t free reign — I had maybe $5–10 a month. You can stretch that, but it doesn’t go forever. One book, maybe two or three if you do it right.
But I think there’s definitely more to it than being poor. Even now, when money isn’t so tight — I won’t go so far as to say that I’m not poor, just not disastrously so — I still tend toward my favorite books. I tend toward familiarity. Even if it’s a book that I’m sure I’m going to love.
The first time I met Kerry Kletter, author of one of my favorite books, The First Time She Drowned, I had to ashamedly apologize for not reading her book. I had bought it some months before, and I had wanted to read it, had been meaning to read it. Just from the synopsis, I could tell that it would be a story that hit very close to home, and I had to will myself to read it. I eventually did — and have reread it a couple of times. It is a glorious book.
The stories that I reread are like old friends. Dear friends that I love deeply. I’m familiar with them, and yet I can glean new insights from them, time and time again. Reading new books always triggers just a smidge of anxiety. It requires me to open my heart and risk having it broken all over again.
And sometimes, most of the time, it ends up working out really well. I don’t think there are any books that I’ve ever regretted reading — though that may change, as I have bought the Fifty Shades of Grey books. For research, I promise you.
Anyway, I’m a proud rereader. And also a book hoarder. God help me.
Zach J. Payne is, to borrow the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda, “a polymath, a pain in the ass, a massive Payne”. He is a thespian, poet, and writer for young adults. He is the #2 Ninja Writer, and the former query intern for Pam Andersen at D4EO literary. Follow along on his adventure, and receive his Query Letter, Deconstructed.