Last October, a Twitter friend told me about her goal to read 65 news books in a year. She made me wonder how many books I had read since January. I checked my reading journal and discovered I had read sixty books. However, only thirty-two were first reads, which was her requirement for a book to count.
Twenty-eight were books I’d read before. Forty-seven percent, nearly half of my total reading, was actually re-reading.
The saying printed on my favorite sweatshirt reads “So many books, so little time.” I know I’ll never have enough time to read all the books I’d like to, so discovering I was spending half of my precious reading time on books I’d already read was disconcerting. It was even more embarrassing when I considered that as a writer I should be reading as many different books as I can manage to help me learn my craft.
I resolved to change my ways and stop re-reading so much. I vowed that every book I read would be a first read.
I read books that had been sitting on my shelf waiting for me to get around to them. I followed friends’ recommendations and read books that they liked. I wandered the stacks at the library looking for authors and series I hadn’t even heard of before. My first-read-only program has led me to some new favorites, to stories that didn’t work very well, to books that disappointed me, and to books I abandoned in the middle.
I definitely shifted the focus of my reading from familiar to new. But I haven’t stopped re-reading entirely. I still occasionally pick up a book I’ve read before. I’ve learned I do so for good reasons.
First, a movie version of a book I’ve read before will send me back to the book so I can compare the two. I’m most likely to do it with a book I haven’t read in a long time, or don’t know all that well. This happened recently with I, Robot (Asimov) and Catching Fire (Collins).
The other reason for reading an old favorite is because I am tired or sick and need something easy to read. An “easy” read is a book that pulls you in. The story is so engaging and the writing so smooth that you just flow into the story. The reading itself feels effortless.
Trying to find a new easy read has turned out to be hard to do. A recent attempt to pull a first read off my shelves that was also easy led me to abandon two different novels before turning in desperation to a book I’ve loved since I was twelve (The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues by Ellen Raskin).
Still, my campaign to spend my reading time more wisely is working. Since I’ve gone on this kick, I’m only re-reading eighteen percent of the time, which is a big change. Mostly, I’m enjoying discovering new characters, new stories, and new worlds.
But now and then I just have to reach for an old favorite. It’s like slipping into soft warm jammies and curling up by the fire on a cold winter night with a mug of cocoa — comfortable, relaxing, and satisfying. Isn’t that what reading is all about?
What about you? Do you ever read a book a second time? Do you have specific situations or reasons that cause you to re-read?