Read. Reread. Repeat.
I confess. I am a rereader. I reread books. And I’m not talking about rereading them once. There are books I have probably read a dozen times. Or a hundred. I’m currently rereading the first five Percy Jackson books (second time round, I think), and I have Anne of Avonlea sitting around the kitchen (possibly about the twentieth reading) and The Little White Horse (getting up towards the hundred mark, I reckon) somewhere in the living room. I know some people don’t ever reread books, but the thought of putting a book I love aside for all time makes me shudder. How could I ever not visit again? It would be like emigrating, watching the shores of a beloved home recede in the distance, knowing all the time that these are the last few glimpses of something that will never come again. My heart would break to think I might never come back.
I accept that it takes time I possibly don’t have. I also know that there are many wonderful new books to read. I read those too, but they’re in a different category, and I think they use a slightly different part of my brain. They certainly live in a different part of my psyche. They’re more like first dates. Something wonderful might happen, but there’s an element of the unknown. Will we like each other? Will we possibly even love one another? But there is a time and a place for adventure. Like the morning. I particularly hate starting a new book just on my way to sleep. Those few gentle moments are not a time for a journey into the unknown. I want the embrace of the beloved familiar. I want to feel safe, loved and lulled. What if the book turned out to be especially dreadful? What if I were plunged into a knife-lined pit of bad writing? Or just a scratchy grey wool suit of dull, worthy writing? Ugh.
I have been known to part ways with books I merely like. Sometimes once is enough. The book gave me whatever it had to offer and I go forward, enriched but not attached. That’s fine. No hard feelings. Then there are others which demand to be read a second time, but then I’m done. Then there are those which I will reread and reread. And reread.
I’d do it, even if there weren’t a writerly justification, but there is. Rereading good books unveils their structure. The first time round it’s all magic, all the breathless rush of story. Later readings allow you to look for craft. Not that I’m always doing that, but let’s say I am. You can examine plot arcs, character development, description, tension, dialogue — so many things. Every beloved book is a course in good writing, if we’re willing to go back and read it again.