The joy of re-reading

Started by Jo Bannister, October 27, 2021, 09:23:52 AM

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Jo Bannister

I don't understand - and as a writer who typically spent twelve months producing a book, it grieves me somewhat - that even serious readers can consider a book done with when they've read it once.  Even when they've enjoyed it, they're happy to pass it on to someone else and never pick it up again.  Have they no idea what they're missing?

I find it incredibly difficult to part with a book - except temporarily, to a few trusted friends who I know will return it in the same condition.  If I've enjoyed it, I know I'll want to read it again.  And if I haven't, I consider the possibility that the fault was in me and might want to try again later when I'm in a better frame of mind.

You get something different out of reading a book the second time.  First time out, you're so involved with following the plot and remembering the relationships of the different players that much of the fine detail passes you by.  Reading it again, remembering at least broadly where the thing is going, all that detail comes to light.  You can focus on the skill of the writing, the choice of words, the sentence structure, as well as how cleverly - or not - you were led towards the conclusion.

For writers in particular, this phase is priceless.  It's a chance to analyse how a good book is created, from the keyboard up.  Why this word was chosen rather than another.  Why the information was released in this order, at this rate, rather than dumped at your feet in one indigestible mass.  Why it's worth giving real life to even minor characters: not because they have a major role to play later, but because of the depth and quality the writer added to his product.

Though there are as many types of good book as there are readers, I think we're all capable of knowing a good book from a bad one.  Can I encourage you to return to a good book that you've previously enjoyed?  And this time, don't just read it - analyse it.  What makes it a good book?  How do you write text which is interesting, informative, grammatical and free-flowing without - and this is important - alienating your readers with your pretentiousness?

Isaac Newton commented that, if he had seen further than other men, it was because he had stood on the shoulders of giants.  Well, what applies to scientists applies equally to writers.  Every good book carries the DNA of other good books that preceded it.  If you want to write better, all the tools you need are contained in books you've probably already read.  Read them again.


You're a woman after my own heart, Jo. I don't know what's wrong with those people who don't reread their books. I love rereading mine. Some, I even reread so often I know parts of them by heart.
Daan Katz, Author - Where the Magic Happens
Join my facebook group Daan's Magical Worlds


It is impossible for me to agree with this more. I've read some of my favourites over a dozen times.
Why can't you support my gibberish? I'd do it if you were stupid.

Jo Bannister

A dozen's pretty good going, Ollie.  But I'm not that far behind with some of my favourites, and I'm not throwing any of them out.  In fact, when I finally wore out Bill Bryson's "Short History of Nearly Everything" I went out and bought another copy!

Glad you guys are getting as much out of your libraries.


Some of the pleasure is down to seeing the 'nuts and bolt's of how another writer did their job.  If they've done a great job you really don't notice these things the first time as the tale sweeps you along.

But some of it is just like meeting an old friend and sharing the same old stories.  You know the tale inside out, but if it struck a chord the first time it will do it again. and again.

When my Sis was doing her degree course the lecturer told them "Every novel should be read at least three times.   Once for pleasure, once to study technique, and once, very critically, to find faults, flaws, and anomalies.  Not necessarily in that order."

Sis said it it took about three years after her degree before she could read just for simple pleasure again.  I can't remember the book but she phoned me up, happy as a lark, to tell me she'd 'enjoyed a whole novel without analysing the bloody thing to death'.

When reading a novel for the first time I often find myself slipping in scraps of paper with a brief note  to remind myself to check, or re-read a section.

My bookshelves are full of friends, and some which are mere acquaintances ;-)