The Joy of Rereading

Just a few of the books I have been rereading. There are many more. Including my copy of Pride & Prejudice which has completely disintegrated.
Just a few of the books I have reread. There are many more. Including my copy of Pride & Prejudice which has completely disintegrated.

I have been mulling over the topic of rereading since Schim (author Gail Schimmel) mentioned that she had started rereading Grown Ups by Marian Keyes (may I add that this was a couple of weeks after she finished reading it the first time. Schim is a professional Marian fan). I am a chronic rereader, which seems vaguely ridiculous given my teetering TBR (To Be Read) pile. I was thinking over the reasons I reread books.

During Lockdown it’s been for comfort, that’s where Jane Austen is a complete win (read Aspasia Karras’ article about that here: I’ve also needed the sense that we’re going to get through this, hence my delve into The Lord of the Rings trilogy. But I was wondering why I reread certain books more than others and I think it’s often because structurally they are very satisfying: the baddies are punished and the s/heroes earn their sashaying off into the sunset (sorry, but the kids talk about Ru Paul’s Drag Race ENDLESSLY so sashay is now an important part of my vocab.)

As an author, I reread books that I think are particularly good – perhaps the plotting is fantastic, maybe the dialogue is memorable, sometimes everything is pure perfection, and so I read to admire and to learn and to hopefully improve my own writing.

Sometimes the reasons are economic, I have exceeded my book allowance for that month or I’m broke and I just don’t have the money to buy more books (Father forgive me for I have sinned, I have a baaaaaaad book habit) and so I will reread old favourites.

I've had the privilege of being in conversation with all these authors about their books

I also have the privilege of interviewing many local (and some international) writers for literary festivals and book fairs – that is a rather wonderful reason for rereading books. But it is a different kind of rereading because it’s more analytical; I’m looking for themes in the book, structure, interesting questions I can ask the author.

I’m also a bit of a voyeur because I know how much of my own self goes into my books and as I reread I look for clues of personal experiences that the author may be drawing on (including naming the corpse/nasty person after the bully from primary school.)

(image: I’ve had the privilege of being in conversation with all these authors about their books)

Occasionally, I come back to a book I loved twenty years ago, and I am shocked to find I no longer enjoy it.

I remember being so excited to introduce my kids to the Enid Blyton books. Said children were deeply unimpressed (who says “Peter, you brick, Mom?” I mean…” *cue massive eye roll*) and when I went and reread some of the books, my first thought was “These aren’t very good”, which felt like sacrilege because forty years ago I was her number one fan. But that’s the thing about revisiting books you once loved – you cannot make yourself love them again.

Rereading has to be a joyful experience, otherwise it feels like you’re back at school or university and cramming for an exam. Also, our taste in books, as with everything else in life, evolves and changes as we get older. Something that may have appealed to us when we were single and twenty no longer resonates when we’re fifty and battling to run around the block in our crop bottoms.

I wanted to know what other writers felt about rereading so I spoke to a few authors about it. This is what they said:

“I give always the same answer to this question, because it has been true since my university days – these are the three books I return to every few years:

  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • An Instant in the Wind by André Brink

All three are storytelling perfection and they encapsulate everything we need to know about what it means to be human. As a reader, I find them emotionally and intellectually fulfilling. They inspire me as a writer to do better. And the editor in me is never tempted to change a single word.”

Karina Sczcurek (Author and Publisher)

Karina with her favourite rereads
Karina with her favourite rereads

Melissa Volker with her wonderful books. Wonderful rereading material.

“I am a bit of a re-reader on occasion. I re-read bestselling books in either the same genre or as close to the genre that I write. I do this to see how I can improve; in order to observe how the author structures the narrative; and also to find what I perceive to be weak points to avoid. I’ve read Nicholas Sparks’ The Lucky One, Safe Haven and The Choice multiple times for those reasons. 

I also re-read scenes I find to be emotionally moving. Just because I like being emotionally moved and also for learning purposes. 

I re-read poetry. I have a thirty year old anthology and I always read the same poems.  Robert Frost. Robert Herrick, Louis Macneice. Especially Meeting Point. I love that one. 

I also re-read children’s books, especially rhyming ones, because they are so warm and familiar, with memories both from my childhood and when my own children were small. Favourites are The Cat in the Hat, (my brothers and I still say ‘I bet with my net I can get those things yet’, when needed.) The Big Honey Hunt. The Lorax and Julia Donaldson of course. 

Melissa Volker (Author and Blogger)  

Sue Nyathi signing books at the launch of The Gold-Diggers. She definitely loves rereading

“I am definitely a re-reader and it’s not one book I reread, there are many. I often revisit a book so I can relive the pleasure it gave me when I read it for the first time. If it’s a self-help book I will revert to a chapter to reacquaint myself with an issue I may be struggling with in my personal life.

Some books have powerful lessons which I often revert back to.  I also re-read books that I may have read when I was younger but did not get the full meaning of the book because maturity lends a different experience of a book.”

-Sue Nyathi (Author and Screenwriter)

“Maturity lends a different experience of a book”. I love that.

Right now as you read this, in a parallel universe where Covid-19 doesn’t exist, I am doing a one-on-one interview with Marian Keyes at the Franschhoek Literary Festival. Sadly, in this universe FLF has been cancelled, and my dream of interviewing her is just that – a dream. When I whined about it on Twitter, Marian herself said “Next year, Pamela!”

The author I WILL still interview (just putting it out there)
The author I WILL still interview (just putting it out there)

I am holding on to that thought and in the mean time I will be following Schim’s example and rereading Grown Ups and a few of Marian’s other books.

In the words of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth and Vera Lynn, “We will meet again”. I can’t wait. Happy rereading everyone! Stay safe xxx