The Comfort of Reading Books More Than Once

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

I have a running list of comfort foods I like to indulge in—Wisconsin mac and cheese (topped with parmesan chicken breast) from Noodles and Company, chicken and dumplings from Cracker Barrel, a nice, cheesy, New-York style slice of pizza, cupcakes . . . the list is pretty much endless.

To that effect, I have favorite “comfort” books I read over and over. This never ceases to surprise my husband, who has never been much of a reader. Both my kids do the same thing, though, and I laugh a little to myself every time I see my daughter check a book she’s read at least 20 times out from the library once again.

When I was a child, my parents moved us around a lot and the one stable thing I had in my possession was my collection of paperbacks. I read Judy Blume, Lois
Duncan, Christopher Pike, and the Sweet Valley High series over and over and over. Now, my collection has progressed somewhat, although I don’t have as many. Elin Hilderbrand’s books top my list of comfort reads—especially The Blue Bistro. Opening the pages of one of her novels instantly transports me to a place I long to visit, Nantucket, Mass. When I reread Jodi Picoult’s novels I often pick up on hints that I previously missed.

I guess for me, I like to slip back into familiar books the way I would slip into a cozy old sweater. I feel like I know the characters by heart—like I’m part of their world, entrenched in the lives and their homes. I often stumble across things I missed in previous readings—mostly because I was in a rush. I like to revisit books where I know what’s going to happen and don’t have to put a lot of thought into what I’m reading, much like the way I’d rather order up my favorite cupcake than take a chance on trying a new flavor. In this article I found in The New York Times, the writer says “Going back to a book is a way of daring that past self to find new evidence for that old love."

And did you know that researchers believe reading a book a second time can have emotional benefits? On a first read, readers are focused on what is happening in the story—the main events. On the second read, one can savor the emotions ignited by the book more deeply. This happened to me when I read The Help by Kathryn Stockett a second time. I was in such a rush to finish the book the first time I didn’t connect with it on as deep of a level as I did the second time, when I became filled with anger, sadness, defiance, grief, and triumph.

When I read the book Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan again as an adult, after having moved through my high school and teenage years, I read the pages with a more seasoned viewpoint of things. I’ve had teachers and professors that used “tough love” as a way to make me a better writer. It made the central death in the novel all the more poignant, and senseless. I hope to one day publish a book that others will enjoy reading more than once, too.

Do you have any books you read over and over again? Share your favorites in the comments below!

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and editor who also works as a Blog Tour Manager for WOW! Women on Writing. When she’s not working on client projects, she enjoys spending time with her family and writing young adult and middle grade fiction. Visit her blog, Renee's Pages, for more musings about books and writing.


SE Hudnall said...

Oh, yes. This is my modus operandi. Again and again and again. I’ve had to rifle through the shelves at used book stores to find another copy of an old friend because my old copy was falling apart. I learned to look for and buy hardbacks so they would last longer. One in particular has become my favorite anti-depressant- “The Egg and I” by Mary McDonald. I don’t think it will ever be considered great literature and, yes, it is racist in its treatment of Pacific Northwest Indians, but it still has the ability to make me laugh.

So many old friends to visit again. Some are well known, but others are not. Like my human circle of friends, I don’t really care. I still like to brew up a pot of coffee and settle down into a comfortable chair for a good natter. As you have observed, old friends may tell the same story, but one can always hear something new in the retelling.

Sioux Roslawski said...

"A Thousand Splendid Suns" I've read more than once. Jodi Picoult--I love her books, but rarely read more than once, because they're so full of twists, once the twists and turns have been experienced, the surprise is spoiled. (However, her "Leaving Time" had such a shattering twist, I want to read it again to see what clues I overlooked.) Leonard Pitts Jr's "Freeman" is one I love and have read several times, along with Sue Monk Kidd's "The Invention of Wings."

Sandra Dallas books I love to reread. As a kid I read and reread Pearl Buck books. Dickens' "Tale of Two Cities" I've read several times. Marilyn French's "The Women's Room" I've read a couple of times, and now would like to read it again.

Probably a longer answer than you were hoping for... But whenever books are mentioned, I tend to spray spittle in my excitement...

Renee Roberson said...

@SE--I love how you to refer to the books as "old friends." That they definitely are!

@Sioux--A little "spittle" of excitement is always good! I had to go back and look for the "clues" after I read "Leaving Time," too.

Happy to share the love (and sometimes neuroses) of reading with others :-)

Bookie said...

Really enjoyed this essay! Glad to read of someone else enjoying a book rerun. I reread Gladys Taber often...the gentle, easy pace of country living in a time long gone by. I reread Willa Cather...Gone with the Wind...and because I taught the book, I have read SHANE about 15 times. I never tired of that beautifully written story!

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