Not too long ago, I published a Deer In Headlines column on the subject of how, as a writer, I’m frequently asked what books I read and why. Since then, I realized that I have a tendency to re-read certain books that I’ve enjoyed over the years and I know that most people do the same thing.
So, it had me wondering, in a world with countless literary choices, why we often choose to go back to an old favorite, rather than boldly going where we’ve never read before. After a little research and some asking around, I learned that the reasons we sometimes revisit the same bookshelf are more complicated than I first thought.
For starters, humans are creatures of comfort, at least to some extent, and many of us read because it was one of the ways our parents made a connection when we were very young. Reading was soothing, like an old blanket you wrap up in before bedtime and have a hard time parting with once it’s tattered and threadbare.
Tradition might be another word to describe this idea too. Personally, I like to read Charles Dickens’, “A Christmas Carol,” at the holidays every year – time permitting – as one of my own traditions. It’s a story that never fails to entertain and enlighten, and I always take away something new.
If a certain book imprints on you from a young age, you’re likely to go back to it again and again for the sheer level of reassurance it brings you. A familiar story can be calming and offer a welcome escape from the daily rigors of life or just a fun adventure into another world.
Re-reading a book you once read in your youth can also offer a different perspective. Life experience can change how we view ideas or motivations first encountered at a much younger age. Going back to that book you read in high school English class might just take your understanding of its meaning to a new level.
Plus peeling back the layers of the author’s work with a more mature perspective can even help you learn more about yourself. One article I read on the subject referred to this concept as, “cheap, effective therapy.”
When others talk about a book you’ve already read, you may discover that there are elements of the story you might have missed the first time around. Going back over it again on a quest to uncover those points for yourself can turn a good read into a great adventure, even if it’s not your first trip through the tale.
There are many other reasons why we re-read our old favorites. We may like the author or just enjoy the book for no readily apparent reason. Whatever your impetus, dust off that old copy of your favorite novel and give it another look. In case you are wondering, here are two of my favorite re-reads and a bit about why I choose to go back to them time and again.
I seem to repeatedly choose, “Microserfs” by Douglas Coupland. This is a fictional story, set in the early 1990s, about a group of Microsoft programmers who broke away to go out on their own while dealing with life’s road blocks. I always find it inspiring and I can easily relate to their desire to be part of “version one point zero.”
Another book I revisit regularly is, “Hit Man,” by Lawrence Block. There are four books in the “Hit Man” series, but I always go back to the original. The main character is, as the title suggests, a killer for hire. But the way Block presents him to the audience as somewhat mile mannered and tells the story of his rather violent occupation is intriguing and thoughtful.
I have others, but these make the point of how varied our favorites can be. Just like old movies and TV shows, favorite books have a meaning in our lives. Sometimes it’s just good to go back and visit that world, whether it’s over the rainbow or just down the street.
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