TRR Forum:
The Second Time Around:
The Magic of Rereading

by Linda Mowery
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One of the most satisfying feelings a reader can experience is to be engrossed completely in a good book. Then, whammy, one of the most frustrating questions can arise. What to read next? Several of my friends have immense TBR piles, yet can't easily choose their next book to read. I've been known to wander through library shelves, looking for something that sounds interesting, something that catches my fancy, only to come up empty handed. What happens regularly is that I end up choosing a book that I've already read. Why, with so many books to choose from and with an increasingly small amount of time to read, would anyone in her right mind choose to reread a book? ...again and again? ...to the point of being able to quote dialog?

When I'm reading a book, one of two things happens: I'm either an observer of the story and the characters, and if that's the case, the book goes on the sale pile OR I'm pulled into these character's lives . . . laughing with them, getting mad for them, being afraid with them and loving with them. These are the keepers, the books that make me a willing part of the story, the books I love to reread.

Books that we choose to reread are often referred to as keepers, comfort reads, comfort books, favorites and the term that always comes to my mind, good friends. These books, familiar favorites, are emotional safety nets. We don't have to worry that we'll be well into the book and discover that the characters are unlikable, people that we can't empathize with. Rereading favorite books is being with old friends, friends who understand us and accept us. Rereading allows us to duplicate, to imitate the original feelings that the book created. It's much like watching a favorite movie or going to a familiar place. We're trying to recreate the original magic, and rereading a favorite allows us to duplicate that enchantment.

In Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women, Kathleen Gilles Seidel makes these observations about rereading. "We ought not to forget that reading romances is not the only thing human beings do repetitively. Most leisure activities are compelling. It's hard to stand up from a jigsaw puzzle. I have neighbors who might be candidates for a twelve-step program for compulsive gardeners. My husband has trouble turning off a baseball game." It's comforting and amusing to know that rereading romances is not an isolated activity when it comes to what people do repetitively. I'd much rather be rereading a good story than pulling weeds. I'd much rather be rereading a good story than beginning a mediocre one.

It's safe to fall back on the keeper favorites if I'm in a reading slump and nothing sounds good, or I've finished a great book and am having a hard time even choosing another new book. It's as though the favorites bridge the gap and give me time to readjust, time to refocus on what I want to read next.

Some readers dislike knowing ‘what's on the other side of the door' and are unable to suspend disbelief the second time around. Others relish meeting up with old, familiar friends. I frequently find details that I've missed the first time as I attempted to ‘devour' the story. On subsequent rereads I can savor the writing, flesh out details that I might have missed

The books that I most enjoy rereading are character driven books and not plot driven. It is the people that I want to revisit. Sometimes I'm even searching for a particular episode, one that touched me emotionally, made me laugh out loud or one that struck me as immensely clever. I'll reread whenever I have a craving for a particular experience and want to duplicate that particular emotion.

I can:
• chuckle for days on end as Cal frantically searches for marshmallows in box after box of Lucky Charms, (Susan Elizabeth Phillips' NOBODY'S BABY BUT MINE)

• waltz with a Prince (Nora Robert's COMMAND PERFORMANCE) until I'm giddy from spinning,

• experience life on other worlds again and again (Jayne Ann Krentz's CRYSTAL FLAME),

• repeatedly save a man's life by warming his feet (Julie Garwood's HONOR'S SPLENDOR),

• be a perpetual survivor of spousal abuse (Patricia Gardener Evans' KEEPER) or

• relive the pressure of being engaged to one man while in love with another (LaVyrle Spencer's SPRING FANCY).

If I've enjoyed stepping into these characters' lives the first time, then the odds are overwhelming that I'll enjoy visiting vicariously with them again. Yes, I know the ending. That's part of the comfort and security. I know when a funny part is coming and can anticipate the good feelings that are imminent. I know what parts to avoid.

My keepers are the books that speak to me deeply and intimately. They have become friends. Good friends, friends that I don't want to forget, friends that I'll revisit as often as I can, knowing that they're just a few pages away.

But that's my opinion. What's yours?

Be sure to check back soon. We'll be asking for your list of the top books you enjoy rereading. Here are some of our contributors comments about rereading:

Here's what Senior Editor Cathy Sova feels about rereading:

I'm primarily a reader who wants to be entertained. I read for escape and fun, so when I'm bored, restless, or don't have a satisfying book in front of me, I'll often pick up an old favorite. SCANDAL by Amanda Quick always makes me grin with its spectacle-wearing, financially-astute heroine who is otherwise a bit of a ditz. ANYONE BUT YOU by Jennifer Crusie never fails to make me laugh, even though I think I've read it about twelve times now. Who could resist Fred, the drooling, butt-swaying basset hound? If I want to escape into another time and place, AS YOU DESIRE by Connie Brockway is a favorite. A spunky heroine, a hero to die for, and an Egyptian setting. Great stuff. These books are like old friends. I know exactly what I'm getting into when I open the covers, and that's reassuring. I can just relax and enjoy.

TRR reviewer Irene D. Williams give us her take on rereading.

I still have a bookcase of favorite books from when I was a child -- not only do I enjoy remembering what I thought was wonderful from then, but I'm always surprised and pleased to find books like LITTLE WOMEN are still wonderful. When I heard recently that my mother had sold bookcases of old books at her house, I was very upset -- I knew some would have to be old friends of mine. In fact, I remember some Dickens and Kipling and Robert Louis Stevenson novels better than I remember some living old friends.

I have more bookcases of books that are my romance favorites. I'm always eager to read the latest in the series by Nora Roberts or Elizabeth Lowell or Linda Howard -- but I enjoy going back to the first in the series, too. Not only do my old books entertain me all over again, but they remind me of when I was first entertained by them. Rereading and reenjoying adds another layer of pleasure to the fun of reading a good book.

TRR reviewer Tina Engler also enjoys rereading books.

I'm most likely to head to the bookshelf for an old favorite whenever I've just finished reading a string of really bad new ones and know I simply cannot stomach the idea of chancing yet another dismal experience. To me, rereading a favorite book is like crawling under the covers with a cup of hot cocoa on a rainy day...it's relaxing, invigorating, and acts as an emotional security blanket in that I already know everything that's going to happen.

TRR Senior reviewer Susan Scribner shares her thoughts on rereading.

I don't have as much time as I used to for reading anything at all, so unfortunately re-reading books is a rare luxury. When I do pick up an already-read romance, I usually skim through it and focus on my favorite scenes - the ones that made me laugh, cry and/or sigh with longing. One of my favorite re-reading candidates is Diana Gabaldon's VOYAGER, when time-traveling Jamie and Claire Fraser are reunited after a separation through time and space that seemed impossible to overcome. You can't get much better than that for sheer emotional impact (and comic relief as well). Another favorite is LORD OF THE STORM by Justine Davis, a great futuristic romance. Now that I'm a die-hard Carla Kelly fan, I can see re-reading her charming Regencies with their intelligent characters and witty dialogue.

When the most recent J.D. Robb book was published, I skimmed through all of the preceding installments to remind myself of how the characters have evolved over time. I was surprised to realize that my favorite character, Delia Peabody, was barely a presence in the first few novels. And it was also fun to reminisce about how Eve Dallas and the delicious Roarke originally met and became involved.

TRR reviewer Nancy J. Silberstein has rules for her rereading.

Reading and rereading are two very different experiences, both vastly rewarding. Only on that first reading will you encounter the writer's vision with no preconceptions. Only on that first reading can you fully experience that jolt, that click, that "Ah ha!" that comes when the writer suddenly enlarges your horizons or brings something familiar into sharp focus. I love that first reading, that journey into the unknown, but I also love the revisit, the reading where I take my time and savor all the details that I failed to appreciate the first time through. Beyond the first reading and the second, there are books I read and reread many times, over a period of years, so that the book and I travel together through time. I change and sometimes the book does, too. Some books I read in my teens and 20's I can only look back at nostalgically, but other authors - Georgette Heyer, Jane Austen, Dorothy Dunnett, C.J. Cherryh, E. F. Benson - accompany me on my temporal journey, yielding different reading experiences at different times in my life.

I have rules about rereading. (Well, I'm a C.P.A., and C.P.A.s love rules.) I try not to reread just the good parts.
According to njs' Rule #1, you always have to start at the beginning and read straight through to the end.

Rule #2: Don't reread too often. Jot the date of each reading down and don't reread until two years have passed. Administrative regulation affecting Rule #2: Two years have passed when the final two digits of the year have advanced two places. So, if you finish a book on 12/31/99, you can reread it on 1/1/01.

Rule #3: The exception to Rule #2 is that you may reread a book the first time in the same year that you bought the book. Administrative regulation affecting Rule #3: If you read a really great book in December of 1999, better reread it right away, before year-end. If you wait until January 2000, you won't be allowed to reread until 2002.

Rule #4: If you haven't reread a book in five years, rethink keeping it. Administrative regulation affecting Rule #4: Rule #4 doesn't apply to mysteries. The longer you wait to reread a mystery, the more surprising its resolution will be. I reread Dick Francis on a ten-year cycle.

TRR Senior Reviewer Gwen Osborne suspects we all go back to the old and familiar.

"Keeper shelf" is a term TRR contributors toss around rather freely. It's a real place for me, not just a state of mind. These are books I re-read because it's like visiting old friends or going back to favorite places. For example, I like to spend time with Brenda Jackson's Madaris family and their friends because I "know" them all so well. Gay Gunn's books always make me cry (in the same places). She makes me care about her characters.

I also re-read books when authors revisit characters in new books. Carmen Green's "Endless Love" is about the Crawford family. It will be released at the end of the summer. I've re-read SILKEN LOVE and KEEPING SECRETS, earlier books about the same family, in preparation for my review. I like to be able to tell whether the character's actions are consistent or believable from one book to the next, to determine how have these characters changed since I've last seen them.

TRR's Senior Reviewer Lesley Dunlap had these thought on re-reading.

I reread books that have touched me in some special way. It's practically never the plot. It's often the characters or the conflicts they confront. And it's always the language. The English major in me appreciates reading a line, a section, a book, that perfectly reflects the sentiments in the story. As I said in my "White Space" forum: I read them for the words.

Examples:

"When I shall stand before God, I shall have one thing to say, to weight against all the rest....Lord, ye gave me a rare woman, and God! I loved her well." (Jamie in Diana Gabaldon, Dragonfly in Amber)

Forty ways to love ... please, God, let me love just once." (a sentence that demonstrates why this book is more than just soft porn but rather a expression of a woman's longing) (Elizabeth in Robin Schone, The Lady's Tutor)

"I love you from the very bottom of my soul....Not just from my heart, you understand. I love you from my soul." (Mat in SEP, First Lady)

The hero looks down the table and sees the wife he married to bring humiliation to his father as "endearingly shabby." (Mary Balogh, The Temporary Wife)

If the language doesn't move me, the sexiest hero and the most darling heroine, the most ingenious plot, or most exotic setting aren't going to bring me back again and again. The book has to "speak" to me, and it's the author's skill with language that does that.

BTW, I thought long and hard to decide which books I had reread the most through the years. I decided it was a toss-up between Roberta Gellis, Bond of Blood, and Elizabeth Stuart, Bride of the Lion, both medievals. (Coincidence? I think so. Velvet by Jane Feather, set in regency England, is a close runner-up.) Each time I reread them, I don't have a been there done that feeling--it's as though I know the basic outline of the plot but the power of the language draws me back in again.

July 11, 2000

But that's my opinion. What's yours?

Readers, email The Romance Reader with your opinion. Have an idea for a Forum of your own? Let us know.


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