"Master those books you have. Read them thoroughly. Bathe in them until they saturate you. Read and reread them…digest them. Let them go into your very self. Peruse a good book several times and make notes and analyses of it."
-Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students
Some readers may find rereading illogical: why return to an old book when you could start a new one that you might enjoy more? Yes, it is certainly enjoyable and beneficial to read widely and in unfamiliar directions, but rereading holds more benefits than many of us would expect.
For me, it's a key part of my own bibliotherapy rituals.
I currently reread Tolstoy's War and Peace every August. It is a time-consuming experience, but the benefits far outweigh any arduousness of length and getting to know nearly six hundred characters.
Each time August comes around, I find myself reacquainted with my favourite Russian princes and princesses and their lofty meditations on life, beauty and meaning.
Reasons to reread your favourite books (according to science)
Rereading a favourite book "reignites" the positive feelings we first felt
This study focuses on "repeated hedonic experiences", or the repeated carrying-out of activities we gain pleasure from in order to receive more enjoyment and positive feelings. This has much to do with rereading, and explains why I haven't yet got bored of the almighty Russian tome I gained so much from on my first reading.
If you particularly enjoyed reading The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger on a particularly relaxing holiday, you might enjoy rekindling your rest and recuperation a second time. Returning to familiar stories that we enjoyed the first time around, or read during an especially happy period of our lives, can on each rereading "reignite" the positive feelings we originally felt.
It rewards our brain just like returning to favourite music, art and other enjoyable experiences
The repeated contact or reacquaintance with a hedonistic experience, be it reading, a piece of music, or something entirely different, results in a "renewed appreciation" of the experience and even provides mental health benefits, the research suggests.
Some participants in the study did suggest they might be considered unusual for continuing to go back to old favourites, yet many concluded that repeat experiences led to heightened awareness and pleasure.
Therefore, we should not hesitate to go back and reread books – or re-do experiences – that we’ve enjoyed beforehand: there is a high chance that they will appeal to us again.
We can get to know our favourite books in a deeper way
As well as being enjoyable, rereading allows us to increase our knowledge of a book’s plot or characters, and certainly form more developed opinions and relationships with beloved protagonists.
If a novel contains a character that we can relate to, time spent rereading may allow us to further compare our own life and situation with that of the character, and as a result find encouragement, reassurance, or a guide forwards. To read more on this, check out my post on fiction as a simulation of real life.
How to create your own rereading plan
1. Note down some of the books that you have most enjoyed reading
Any book that brings up positive memories or feelings is worth noting down, as is any novel with an immediately memorable plot or character.
For some inspiration, you can take a look at my list of books I'd like to reread for years to come.
2. After making your list, consider the following:
- Do you have any of these books tucked away on a bookshelf?
- Do you think any of the books you have listed would fit your current situation in life, or make a situation that you are facing easier to deal with?
- Do you need a pick-me-up that a feel-good novel you once read on holiday could provide?
3. Dust off your dog-eared paperback and enjoy the book a second time around
Enjoy more from me
- Retreat into my new book, Your Life in Bloom: Finding Your Path and Your Courage, Grounded in the Wisdom of Nature.
- I'm also the author of Mountain Song: A Journey to Finding Quiet in the Swiss Alps, a book about my time living alone by the mountains.
- If you love books, are feeling a little lost right now, and would love some gentle comfort and guidance, join The Sanctuary, my seven-day course to rebalance your life.