3 Reasons to Reread A Favorite Novel

Yesterday I finished rereading Tolkien’s “The Hobbit,” after rereading “The Lord of the Rings” earlier this year. I hadn’t read Tolkien in 12 or 13 years, and I got SO much more out of the experience this time than I did before, even though I absolutely loved the books and Tolkien’s Middle Earth the first time around.

The books, all of them, felt so much more meaningful at age 30 than age 18. They felt different because I was different. I read them on a deeper level and found them more challenging and more meaningful because I had matured and learned so much.

The fact is, who we are and what we have experienced has a great effect on what we get out of reading a story.

Here are 3 reasons, related to the remarks above, to reread the novels you love best, especially if it has been a long time since you’d read them.

  1. YOU MIGHT FIND YOURSELF RELATING TO CHARACTERS YOU DIDN’T RELATE TO BEFORE. Oddly enough, this happened to me rereading “The Lord of the Rings,” and the character in question was Gollum. I never thought much about Gollum or felt anything for him before. Now, being older and (hopefully) a bit wiser, I was able to pity him more. I was more attuned to the role of providence in Tolkien’s tale, and thus to Gollum’s role in the salvation of Middle Earth. I was able to recognize him as a symbol of sin and the blindness it brings. When he was utterly incapable of feeling grateful for Frodo’s kindness or to understand how mercifully Frodo actually was treating him, instead of feeling simple frustration like before, I was stopped in my tracks, like a train had hit my heart. Having learned since my first reading that Tolkien was a devout Catholic, I read using a Catholic lens, and I realized, “I’m Gollum. I’m absolutely Gollum, and Jesus is Frodo in this metaphor.” It was one of the most powerful learning experiences I’ve ever had at the hands of fiction, and it’s not a lesson I could have taken to heart at age 18.
  2. IT CAN EVOKE A SENSE OF NOSTALGIA THAT LEADS TO SELF-REFLECTION. If you are anything like me, you are prone to getting lost in your thoughts, and you think a lot about the big questions of life. So revisiting a book you have not read in years but remember enjoying is apt to set you thinking about who you were the last time you read that book, and how you have changed since then, and what you have learned. Though not always comfortable, this is is a useful self-examination that can contribute to setting future goals and evaluating decisions you need to make in the present. Such reflection can encourage us, in a culture where most deep thought is sacrificed to the gods of superficiality, noise, and ego, to ponder in silence what we like about the person we have become, what weaknesses we still struggle with, where we want to go from here, and what we need to do to get there.
  3. YOU REALIZE JUST HOW MUCH THE READER MAKES THE READING EXPERIENCE WHAT IT IS. This is important for authors, and since the majority of my readers here are authors, I thought this worth mentioning. By comparing what you thought of the book the first time around and what you think of it now, and what stood out to you then and what stands out now, you realize just how dependent a novel is upon its reader. This can remove some of the pressure that we feel as writers as we learn we can’t control the interpretative process of our work and don’t need to. That’s a load off, for sure!



14 responses to “3 Reasons to Reread A Favorite Novel

  1. What an excellent post! I very much agree with each of your points. It’s fascinating to notice what we are bringing to the reading process. A friend of mine told me a while back that he felt called to reread a book he’d read about twenty years ago and found “boring”, and this time around he found much to love in it. At this age, he’s bringing a lot more life experience to the reading. And yes, this does take pressure off us as writers! This writing really is a collaboration with the reader in so many ways!

  2. Good reasons.
    I recently reread Animal Farm. Major difference from reading it as a kid largely unawares of politics, and generally naive to the nastiness of people and what lengths they go to to deceive and twist things.

  3. I love this post. I make it a priority at least once a year to reread books I haven’t read inyears. Two recent ones were “The Outermost House” and “The Living Desert” both by Henry Beston. There were some parts where I wondered how I ever managed to read them but others were I was more enthralled than at previous readings. Great post. Thanks.

    • Glad you enjoyed it. I read advice once that, to avoid getting stuck in our time’s prejudices and errors of thought, it’s good idea to read one book written at least 50 years ago for every 2 or 3 book published recently. I definitely think making sure to reread a book or two or three every year is a great idea and a good addition to that other rule I’m familiar with.

  4. Funny thing is that I had similar thoughts about Gollum. I read the books when I was in middle school and looked at them only as an adventure story. When I read them again before the movie, I realized how essential he was to the quest. He’s gets a lot of events in action and it leaves me wondering if the heroes would have failed without him.

  5. Thanks Victoria! It is so good to see you back to your blog. I’ve missed your insightful posts! This post especially resonated for me. I used to never reread books. I thought it was pointless with all of the books out there that I hadn’t read. It is only since I have gotten older that I can appreciate the different ways of looking at things, and the perceptions that we draw at particular periods in our life. I also think of college literature classes and how much I now appreciate what I learned from them. When one is compelled to read a book that is outside the genre that one normally reads, one also learns from it. A particular book comes to mind, Beloved, by Toni Morrison. I loved it! I understand why she got the award she did for it. It opened my eyes to the plight of slaves and the horrific experiences from slavery. I should go back and read it, it has been many years. It will be interesting to see if I still feel the same. I was very impressed with it then.

  6. Great points, I need to start rereading books, I used to reread some books almost constantly, but alas now I seldom reread any.
    I have to admit though, I hate metaphors in books, I’ve quit reading a few because of them.

  7. Thanks, Victoria! Pinned & shared. 🙂

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