Some readers enjoy revisiting a story. Re-reading is an easy activity with little risk for disappointment. However, it’s not always a comfortable experience.
Why do we re-read?
The reason is often the most obvious one: we want to read the story again because it’s one of our favorites.
That simple explanation doesn’t stop psychologists from looking into why people re-consume film, television episodes and books when there are new stories available. In The Atlantic article “On Repeat: Why People Watch Movies and Shows Over and Over”, Derek Thompson lists four additional reasons:
Mere Exposure Effect: Our enjoyment for the book increases because we’ve been previously exposed to it.
Regressive Re-Consumption: We use the book as a time machine to revisit a lost memory.
Emotional Regulation: We receive the emotional payoff we expect from the book.
Existential Understanding: When we reengage with the book, we rework an experience that occurred when we first read it.
Is re-reading a waste of time?
Revisiting a story is often considered an inefficient use of leisure time. When you have a towering TBR pile, why would you give attention to the books you’ve read?
It turns out that there’s more going on than reading. Research suggests that re-consumption habits or repeating experiences has health benefits.
In this Oprah Daily article, Michelle Darrisaw referenced a 2012 study about re-consumption experiences. They found that “repeating experiences is not only comforting, it also gives you a boost of happiness.”
Another 2012 study discovered that re-reading a favorite book or watching reruns on television helped with self-control. Researcher Jayne Derrick, Ph.D. explains that “there was a measurable restorative effect from a familiar fictional world.”
But it must a favorite to enjoy the benefits. As this Very Well Mind article from Elizabeth Scott, MS, points out, there’s a “social surrogacy” in revisiting a beloved story. “Re-watching a favorite television show can provide a less stressful encounter than real-life social encounters that may include conflict or other unknown potential energy drains.”
Advantages and Disadvantages of Re-Reading
Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Every book lover knows how this feels when they re-read their favorite stories. Your hard-earned life experiences will influence how you respond to the book every time you crack it open.
Sometimes revisiting the story will enhance your enjoyment. You discover small but significant moments that you had missed before. A character’s action or words has additional meaning the second time around, or the recurring theme is more pronounced when you read the book over and over.
Reading a book multiple times also allows you to establish a stronger bond with the story and characters. In her podcast “Why Re-Reading is Possibly the Best Reading,” Sarah Mackenzie reminds us that books can be lifelong companions “but friendship isn’t instantaneous. Friendships take time.”
Of course, re-reading a book has the potential to diminish the enjoyment. The book you adored decades ago might seem problematic if you read it today. Or the story that had been so important to you during one point in your life no longer interests you.
But perhaps readers shouldn’t expect a book to remain a favorite. They can be important at different times in a person’s life. In her BookRiot article “Reflections on Rereading and the Self”, Sarah Rahman says that re-reading is a way to measure changes in yourself. “Rereading has taught me that there are an infinite number of books out there to love,” she says, “but I won’t necessarily love them now, at this time in my life.”
Here are two ways to revisit your favorite stories without investing too much time:
Treat it as a ritual instead of a habit. Make it a tradition or a special occasion when you don’t have the time. Read your favorite Christmas romance every year around the holidays. When you travel, bring along a beloved book set in that location.
Add a twist to the familiar. Repeat the experience of your favorite book by listening to the audio edition. The addition of the narrator adds a new approach to the story and you can do other tasks while re-reading on audio.
Are all the books on your keeper shelf worthy of a re-read? Take the challenge here.