Reasons for rereading, plus 5 books I’ve returned to again and again
As I’ve said before, I have a substantial collection of books on my shelves that are still on my TBR list. I’m also a regular library patron and independent and used bookstore customer. Knowing those facts, you may assume I’m not much of a rereader. That assumption would be incorrect. While I don’t reread tons of books, there are some I’ve returned to over the years.
When I do reread a specific book, I typically do so for a few reasons:
The writing and/or characters were so beautifully compelling that I feel I need to revisit to see all the intricate layers. I rarely (if ever) reread for plot.
The contents of the book were educational in some way and I feel I could glean more use from the book’s pages to tackle a project or problem.
The storytelling was captivating and I want to hear the author’s voice again in my brain. This one typically happens with essay collections, particularly on audio.
Something about the writing, storytelling, or character development would help me solve an issue in my own writing.
It’s also important to note that none of those reasons are mutually exclusive. For example, if I’m rereading a book for reason #1, the timing of that reread might be in part because of reason #4.
Now that I’ve shared some of the reasons I return to books, I want to pass along a few books I’ve reread that fit into each category. If you haven’t read these titles before, I hope you’ll pick them up and maybe that you’ll find a re-readable book to return to again and again in the future.
This novel fits primarily under the heading of reason #1 above, with the added “comfort read” benefit. I purchased my slightly beat-up copy from one of my favorite bookstores because the owner hand-sold it to me after asking about my reading tastes. I didn’t actually read it, however, until it was assigned as the hopeful ending point in my 20th-century American novel course in college.
A brief summary: The novel is narrated by an aging Congregationalist pastor, John Ames, who is writing a letter to his young son because he knows he will likely die far before the boy reaches adulthood. It’s a simple concept, and yet it serves as a beautiful starting point from which to discuss community, faith, family, past, present, and future. When you open this book, you’ll feel like Reverend Ames is sitting across from you, sharing his life, deepest held beliefs, his doubts and questions, and his hopes.
Something about the beauty of Robinson’s writing, the lovely humanity of Reverend Ames’ narration that weaves together the theologically sublime with the messy reality of human relationships, brings me back again and again. Since I first read this book in 2014, I’ve revisited it four times. I’m planning to read it again this year. It’s been too long since I’ve visited Reverend Ames and I know the book holds more beauty for me to discover.
I am generally not a self-help reader. Often I find the prescriptive one-size-fits-all advice doesn’t really fit my life neatly at all, at least not wholesale. The fabulous thing about this book is that it’s about building systems and mindsets that work for you. In fact, there’s very little “do this” language in the book at all. I’ve returned to this book a couple of times now because of my second rereading reason and it never fails to show me a new way of thinking through a problem or approaching a system in a new way that better suits my needs. Sometimes, it’s given me the deep breath I needed to step away from something that, upon examination, didn’t really matter at all. And that is well worth the price of admission.
Instead of a list of “shoulds,” Adachi offers thirteen principles in this book that help you see your life, your problems, your pain points with a kinder and more realistic lens. Generally, when I’ve returned to this book since it came out in 2021, I’ve focused on just the principles that will address the issue I’m running into and offer clarity around why I’m having a problem or feeling overwhelmed.
It’s a self-help book that actually helps readers help themselves instead of forcing one person’s system onto the masses. It’s a must-have on my shelf and I’m sure it’ll be helpful for years to come because of its flexibility.
This one fits mostly under my first reason for rereading and also the fourth. My first introduction to this book was in college, in my 2012 sacramental literature class (which was really a Wendell Berry class in disguise). Since my first visit to Berry’s Port William membership, I’ve had the joy of working through many of the other stories and I’ve loved them all (Hannah Coulter will likely be a reread for me in the future, for example).
A brief summary: The novel tells the life story of Jayber Crow, the barber in the fictional town of Port William, Kentucky. Now, I know a story about a small-town barber may not sound like exciting reading, but trust me on this one. You will feel welcomed into the Port William membership. It’s not a perfect community, but shows the true beauty of humanity and living together.
The way that Berry writes about community and relationships is truly unmatched, which is what keeps bringing me back to this book in particular and his writing in general. Not only do I notice some detail
anew with each reread, but I also learn more about how to construct characters that feel real, both in their individuality and in their relationship to other characters and their environment.
I really love Patchett’s writing in general (The Dutch House is a book I wish I could write), but something about her essays really captivates me. This reread fits squarely under my third reason and for that reason, I tend to return to this book on audio, which is unusual for me. In fact, I rarely buy audiobooks because I know I generally don’t reread them, making the price feel a bit steep for my budget.
The collection ranges from Patchett’s personal story and relationships (particularly with her now-husband and dog, Rose), to her professional roles, to the writing life, to the founding of Parnassus Books. A few of my favorite essays in the collection are:
“The Getaway Car” is one of the best essays on the writing life around, weaving Patchett’s writing journey alongside practical advice for other writers.
“This Dog’s Life” is a must-read for anyone who has ever loved a dog, particularly those of us who have always wanted a dog.
“The Love Between The Two Women is Not Normal” is a beautiful look at deep friendships and what it means to love your friend through difficult circumstances.
“The Mercies” is an intimate examination of what it means to live your faith (as evidenced through the nuns) and what it means to walk away from that faith, while still recognizing its worth.
At the time of this blog post’s publishing, I’ve relistened to this book four times.
Last, but certainly not least, this fantastic book on writing falls under my second reason for rereading. While this book certainly holds a special place in my heart because it was really the first book I read that was honest about the messy process of writing, it’s proved an incredibly wise and helpful companion over the years.
Lamott really does cover pretty much every aspect of writing well-constructed and compelling stories in this slim book. Because she organized it by topic and writing stage so clearly, it’s easy to pick up at any point of your own drafting process, flip to the chapter relevant to your needs, and infuse some fresh inspiration and advice into your writing life.
At this point, I’ve read Bird by Bird probably five times—some sections more than that—and I’m guessing I’ll read it several more over the course of my writing life. If you’re a writer, you should get yourself a copy and be prepared to mark it up and return to it again and again over the years.
Do you reread books ever? Why or why not? If you do reread a book, what makes you pick it up again?