I reread a lot. I have to, else I’d never leave the library, or I’d be permanently broke from trying to buy All The Books. Perils of being a compulsive reader, sub-type semi-controlled. If I see words, I read them, but I don’t actually walk around with my nose in a book. Situational awareness is important, you know.

Most of my reading nowadays is ‘comfort reads’. Sweet regency romance, cozy mystery, other light-hearted material, plus nonfiction on a range of subjects.

Some books get reread so often that they’re unremarkable. Georgette Heyer’s works, regency and mystery, are starting to fall into this category. So are Austen’s novels, and anything by Pat McManus. How unfortunate that none of them can provide me with more material.

Then there are the stories that you read, enjoy, and forget about for one reason or another, then reread a decade later, only to find that it was just as amazing an experience as it was the first time. The emotions make you laugh or cry; the characters are like old friends; the world is as comfortable as slipping into your favorite pajamas and snuggling under a blanket. You find yourself wondering, ‘Why didn’t I do this a long time ago?’ At least, I do.

My most recent experience with this phenomenon was a Lord of the Rings fanfic, the ‘History Lessons’ series by Nilmandra. The author’s profile on can be found here. The last few chapters, which focus on the conflicting emotions on characters as they say goodbye forever and move on to a new stage in life, hit a lot differently now that I’m no longer the bratty teenager who read the series back in the early 2000s for the first time.

As for why I didn’t reread the series before now?- I don’t know. Best guess is, it hadn’t come across my radar at a time when I wanted to read that kind of story.

Rereading a good story as a writer is fun, too. The craft is more obvious, because you’re not distracted by a new plot, and if it’s well done, I end up soaking up the turns of phrase, paying more attention to the subtle ways a good writer channels the reader’s attention in the direction they want, and just generally enjoying the experience. And occasionally giggling at a writing mishap I didn’t notice the first time, because I was so engrossed in the story itself that I had no attention for goofy typos or head-scratcher plotholes.

What are some stories you’ve read and reread, only to discover that they’re just as awesome or even better than you remember? How is your experience of rereading different if you’ve shifted from reader of books to writer of books in the intervening time?

25 thoughts on “Rereading

  1. I’m working my way through the AudioBooks of Tony Hillerman since the only time I get to “read” anymore is while driving/waiting in the drivethrough.

  2. I found C J Cherryh’s earlier books a bit chilly and hard, but with The Pride of Chanur (5 bks) and especially Foreigner (21 and continuing) I am constantly impressed with her inventiveness and craft in handling such a breadth of material, culture, and characters. It repays rereading several times.

    Georgette Heyer and Austen will always remain comfort reads for me.

  3. A lot of Margery Allingham, especially Look to the Lady, Dancers in Mourning, Traitor’s Purse, Tiger in the Smoke, and the Fashion in Shrouds. I’d revisited Sayers and Christie from time to time, but hadn’t read Allingham since sometime in the late 1980s or very start of the 90s, 35+ years ago.

    I’ve burned through most of my regular Heyer rereads lately, so now am down to the Masqueraders. Mostly just marking time until the dad shows up at the end of the book.

      1. She’s not on my re-read list; I ended up donating most of her stories because I felt that as the series went on, they got a little too formulaic. However, they had some hilarious episodes 🙂 (And she’s probably better than a lot of recent cozy mystery authors).

  4. Christie is my comfort read. It doesn’t matter to me that I know who done it; I enjoy hanging out with Poirot or Marple or whichever other detective is there, and see the clues that I missed the first time around. Some of Christie’s books are very different in hindsight; there’s a particular scene in Towards Zero that was kind of charming and cute on the first read and is absolutely freaking terrifying on a reread.

    As for one that I went a long time between rereading…. It’s a bit corny, but Mercedes Lackey’s The Last Herald-Mage trilogy. The first time I read it, I was having a really hard time with life, and for some reason, Vanyel’s story hit me at just my most sensitive spot. I was bawling by the end, and I never cry over books. Then, in grad school, for some reason I decided to go back and read it again. Life was good, I was enjoying things … and then I read through those same parts that had hit me before, and once more, I found myself reaching for the tissue box.

  5. The biggest thing I noticed about good books, after I started trying to write, is time. Georgette Heyer can spend 20% of the book on one scene at the end but it doesn’t feel that way. I literally started counting pages once when I realized that three weeks had gone by in about six pages in, I think, Cotillion. That was a very important lesson because I was trying to account for every minute in one of my efforts. I thought I Had to Know what my heroine was doing All the Time. And So did You. Ugh.

      1. In my serials I tend to write in a more real-time way, and I try to follow the characters through the changing seasons. In the novels I wrote when I lived in Japan I made a multi-year jump into the last third of the novel and, re-reading one of those novels, it did not work as well as I had hoped. I’m in the middle of re-reading the other and I’m hoping it works better than in the other…

    1. What I notice from good writers is the different space allocation given to unexpected punctuation points, in ways that would never otherwise have occurred to me. Heyer’s stories are structured in ways we would recognize as plot points, but the mix of brief and lengthy scenes/sequences are a subliminal part of what gives them vitality.

      For example, think of Heyer’s Frederika (one of my absolute favorites) where the lengthy (and hilarious) near-final sequence of the interrupted side elopement, its discovery, and its denouement (such a masterful performance!) is immediately succeeded by the very brief but fully satisfying ending scene of the tentative main couple finally committing, complete with two younger brothers and the promise of a building for blow-up experiments.

      It should have seemed imbalanced, but, no, it’s just right.

      And then, she’s really, really good at bravura endings where all possible calamities take place like crashing cards that spit out a set of perfect resolutions. (Friday’s Child, The Grand Sophy, Foundling, Sprig Muslin). The simultaneous interlocking calamities may take time to unfold (there are sometimes so many of them!), but the resolutions at the end are always both inevitable and satisfying. They don’t need to be long — they carry just as much zing as they need, the way they are.

      [Filed under Skills I Wish I Had]

      1. Skills I think we all wish we had. I think Heyer possibly learned from watching performances of the wacky drawing room farces of her period, things we don’t see a lot of today and possibly wouldn’t think much of even if we did. So she’s transmitting to us a skillset from an obsolete art form.

  6. Pratchett is the first time I realized that something I was reading for fun was a rewarding re-read– different moods, you see different things, and he had so. Much. Fun!

  7. About re-reading… I had a class of 7th graders who didn’t recognize the line, “Mine is a high and lonely destiny.” They were just nodding and saying, oh yes how good, when I used it to try to show someone’s wickedness. They had read _The Magician’s Nephew_ in a lower grade and had, evidently, not understood it. So I read it out loud to them for three weeks. Finally a kid looked at me and said, “We didn’t realize Uncle Andrew was so bad!” I hoped they learned that rereading was good. I can’t be sure.

    1. I was another one who originally thought Uncle Andrew was mildly unsympathetic comic relief rather than “one lab accident away from becoming a supervillain.”

    2. :grumpy:
      And this is why I dislike required reading lists, what the kids are Supposed To Take Away From It seldom comes through.

      1. I gotta tell you, this was a book that they Studied! I was truly appalled. But the idea was to start with it and move through the Narnia series. The fact that it isn’t a beginning book meant nothing. The road to Hell is paved …

  8. I’ve recently reread Andre Norton’s Time Traders series. I had forgotten so many of the complications, I was surprised at the complexity, the details.

  9. My comics get re-read. I’m in an approximately five-year cycle. Some stretches are not as good as I remember from my childhood, but I find myself appreciating certain artists I did not in my youth.

    I re-read some Lois Duncan books a few years ago. I had first read them in jr high school. I still really enjoyed Down a Dark Hall and the one with the adopted girl and her evil twin. I Know What You Did Last Summer was better than the movie.

    I usually read books during my lunchbreak, so since my time is limited I’ve tried to read books I should have read when I was younger so nothing really gets re-read. I will eventually re-read The Screwtape Letters since it truly blew my mind.

  10. Throughout grad school and before tenure, I reread David Eddings Belgarion and Mallorean series. Clear good guys and bad guys, lots of adventure. They were my go-to comfort read to the point that when my husband saw me with one of them he made sure to find out what was stressing me out.

  11. Long before I thought about writing books myself, I used to routinely read books I really enjoyed twice in succession; the first time to enjoy the story and the second time to enjoy how the writer put it together.

    Probably should have realized this was a step on the slippery slope…

    1. I started to write because my mother made me return all my books to the library a full WEEK before we went on the trip that was the reason to not take out more.

  12. I’ve read Les Miserables four times, unabriged, in the original Wilbour translation. Partly because of all the wonderful side characters (like M. Mabouef, who like everybody in those days had his label that ended in -ist, but who was neither a royalist nor a loyalist nor a populist, but an old-bookist), and partly because the translation-on-the-clock (it was published the same year as the original) led to some wonderful phrasings that are neither quite French nor quite English, but maybe should be things in English (“The Champs d’Elysees was nothing but dust and glare, the two elements of glory.”).

    And I’ve read Ivanhoe four or five times, and I’m not entirely sure why. I like it well enough, despite things that read oddly to the modern reader — the “sympathetic” Jewish character who is, um, well, Walter Scott tried, I guess is the best you can say; and the… lumpy plot structure and pacing. But the oddnesses are outweighed by the glories, such as the scene where the haughty Knight Templar is issued a challenge, in writing, from Gurth the Swineherd and his partner Wamba, son of Witless, the Court Jester — the novel has built up the Templar carefully so that his reaction to such insult is utterly delightful; or the scene of the castle burning, with the crazed old crone dancing atop the walls, singing her vengeance in verse.

  13. I have three annual rereads — Zelazny’s Lord of Light, Lord of the Rings, and Smith’s Lensmen series (I alternate between the 6 book version, and the original 4 novel version that only is available in the old Astoundings).

    But I reread a lot, to remind me why I love the genre, Because, far too often, I start to dislike SF, and need to remind myself about what a brilliant field it has been.

    My entire list of comfort reads is about 100 books or so, depending on what I need to get back my sense of wonder. But, when I need rescue, then modern stuff won’t do — generally not this century, and a lot from the 40s-90s.

    (After a particularly bad story, I ended up having to reread the entire output of Beam Piper. Another time, I needed the Baen 7 volume Anderson Future History *and* the seven volume NESFA Press Anderson shorter works. Or all of Brackett’s Mars and Stark stories.)

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