The Joy of Re-Reading

I love to read. I don’t read like I did back in high school and college and that makes me sad. It’s my fault, though. I just don’t prioritize my reading time like I used to. It’s very easy to get sucked into social media, watching TV, and doing things that are less rewarding but also less demanding.

I love to read books more than once. I’ve had numerous discussions with people who believe it is pointless to read a book more than once. They look at me as if I have three heads when I mention how many times I have read The Lord of the Rings. (It’s over 15 for those keeping score at home.) They say things like, “You already know what happens so what’s the point in reading it again?” I sort of understand that perspective because I do know what happens so that particular joy of reading is gone the second and third times, but I am convinced that reducing the purpose of reading a book to simply finding out what happens does a great disservice to the greatness of a good story.

The joy of the journey…

For me, the point of re-reading a book is the joy of the journey. Perhaps I am in the minority here, but when I read a book for the first time, I am laser-focused on the plot. I lose track of the language, the prose, the beauty of the story. Not completely, mind you, but those things fall to the side in my desperate search for “what happens.” With that in mind, re-reading a book I enjoyed is crucial if I am going to truly fall in love with the totality of the story, not just how things get from point A to point B.

My brain was in overdrive wondering what would happen to the man and his son in Cormac McCarthy’s masterpiece, The Road, the first time I read it. I needed to know how their story would conclude. That was my driving motivation. That’s not to say I completely missed the beauty of McCarthy’s writing, but it wasn’t until the second reading that I fully discovered the sheer poetry of the thing. The transcendent splendor of how McCarthy says a thing. Not just what he says.

As I stated earlier, I’ve read The Lord of the Rings over 15 times in my life, with my first reading happening my Freshman year in college in 1995. At one point, I read that book every year. In the past five to seven years, I have reduced my readings to every other year or so. Why would I want to revisit a story that many times? Is “because it’s awesome” a good enough answer? Honestly, Tolkien was such a master with language that I pick up new things every time I read it. Maybe that just means I am not a careful enough reader, or I am not smart enough to take it all in on one reading. Or maybe, there are layers upon layers of character development, spiritual insight, and wisdom that are only available to the reader who goes back to the written words again and again.

Is there a correct approach?

So, is my way the correct way or do those that only read a book once have the answer here? I honestly don’t know. I do know that I would never want to live in a world where I could only read a book once. My time as a reader has been blessed in so many ways by revisiting my favorite stories. I’ve been to Narnia dozens of time. I’ve lived with Merlin and Arthur more times than I can recall. I have journeyed with Jesuit priests to a distant planet as they try to share God’s love with His other children on multiple occasions. I go to Hogwarts with Harry, Ron, and Hermione as often as I am able.1 I’ve looked out at Watership Down with Hazel and Fiver more than once. Or twice.

I love the characters and the stories so much that it almost feels like I’ve lost a dear friend when the story is finished. Of course, I want to see those friends again! Going back on those trips and reliving those adventures has brought me innumerable joys. I’ve felt the beauty and the truth more deeply. I’ve cried more and I’ve laughed more. Every pleasure a great story can bring has been amplified when I experience it a second time.

Maybe I’m crazy. If so, I am completely content to live in my lunacy. I would rather be crazy and read my favorite books repeatedly than to be sane and only get to experience them one time. They are too wonderful and transformative to limit myself to only one visit.

  1. You can read Gowdy Cannon’s great take on re-reading the Harry Potter series here.
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Phill Lytle

I love: Jesus, my wife, my kids, my family, my friends, my church, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, 80s rock, the Tennessee Titans, Brandon Sanderson books, Band of Brothers, Thai food, music, books, movies, TV, writing, pizza, vacation, etc...

9 thoughts on “The Joy of Re-Reading

  • May 1, 2019 at 2:07 pm

    I completely identify with your first paragraph. Great article.

  • May 1, 2019 at 2:26 pm

    I have a feeling this might resonate more with guys than gals.

  • May 1, 2019 at 6:27 pm

    Little Women. Heidi. Anything Jane Austen. The Hiding Place. Anne of Green Gables. Anything Agatha Christie.

  • May 2, 2019 at 9:32 am

    I get the reasons for rereading books and see value in it. But I always want to devour something I haven’t read before, so I feel like I am missing out on a new book when I am reading one I’ve already read. Also, I don’t have a favorite. I love many books, but if someone asks me what my favorite is, I can’t answer the question with anything other than the title of what I am currently reading or what I just finished reading.

    • May 2, 2019 at 10:01 am

      I considered addressing that very idea in my article but I opted to focus on the positives of rereading and not offer counterpoints. I agree that if I read the same books over and over I will undoubtedly miss out on some other great books. But, as I look at it, there are so many great books out there I am going to miss out on some of them no matter what I do, so I might as well read books that I know I will enjoy.

      I still try to read new books every year. They might make it into my rotation if I love them enough.

      • May 2, 2019 at 8:58 pm

        Something that I have experienced, and that Phill alludes to above, is that when I read new books it is a risk. Josh Crowe really pushed me to get out of reading only LOTR, HP and Narnia as far as fantasy and I spent a ton of time in 2017 and 2018 reading all the things everyone recommended. I found some great stuff (Wingfeather) but I found a lot more average or not enjoyable at all. Yet, risk is a part of life and it’s a fools errand to avoid it completely. So I’m extremely similar to Phill in trying to find a good balance. In fact, I’m positive my fiction reading habits have been shaped but consciously and subconsciously by my time with REO’s staff. Even those that don’t write as much, like Nathan.

  • May 3, 2019 at 12:54 pm

    I love to reread great books, but don’t do it that often these days because I’m a slow reader and there are so many books I want to read at least once before I die.

  • December 5, 2020 at 11:32 am

    I reread Fellowship of the Ring for the 4th or 5th time and just finished. Even when I know what is coming, the anticipation is enthralling. Like during the “Flight to the Ford” chapter. I can feel my breathing getting shorter as the end of that chapter comes. Or right before the balrog comes at the bridge. The sounds Tolkien used to let you know the orcs were banging their drums is perfect to me. I can put myself in the scene and the moment without even trying. And it consumes me every time. Even when I know the end.


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