How often do you read a book that you’ve already read (if ever)? Do you ever feel any guilt from slipping between the well-worn covers of an old favourite instead of tackling that towering pile of shiny new books?
This isn’t something that I face that often; I re-read books perhaps two or three times a year, which is pretty good considering that my to-read bookshelves hold nearly 60 titles at the moment (let’s not look at how often I add to those shelves, though). This includes returning to old favourites like Jane Eyre, Persuasion and Wuthering Heights, and – every so often – a series re-read.
I haven’t re-read a series in a while; I think my last one was the first four instalments of A Song of Ice and Fire in the run-up to the release of A Dance With Dragons, and I think the fact that the TV show has overtaken the books means I don’t really need to re-read them again for the launch of the next two books.
However, a couple of my favourite authors have returned to book series that most of us thought were done with a long time ago. I now really want to re-read all of Robin Hobb‘s books involving Fitz and the Fool before I buy the paperback of what she says is definitely, absolutely the final FINAL instalment next year. That’s eight pretty huge novels.
Then there’s Tad Williams, who has recently released a novella and the first book in a new trilogy following on from the excellent Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy, so now I also want to re-read the original trilogy of doorstops plus the as yet unread novella before I even think about buying the new book.
So that’s 11 books to re-read, ideally in the next 9-10 months, while trying not to feel too guilty about the other 50-odd books looking at me pleadingly from the to-read bookcase. And I’ll probably feel the urge to return to Jane Eyre or Persuasion during that time, too (I also want to re-read The Handmaid’s Tale after watching the excellent series on C4…).
Is it a waste of time to go back to old reads when there are so many lovely, shiny new books coming out every week that I definitely want to read? Last year I read 51 books and will read fewer than that this year, so even if I don’t acquire any more new books until 2019 (hahaha), I’ll still have a backlog come the end of next year. And I could probably just read an online recap or something.
But then again, why should I or anyone else feel guilty about reading books that we’ve already enjoyed? Especially when you can get a lot out of a re-read; the element of surprise might not be there any more, but you’re likely to pick up on things that you missed the first time round, or focus more on getting to know the characters than anticipating the next plot twist.
For me, technology has been both my joy and my downfall when it comes to reading. I never really knew how many books I read/acquired each year until I joined LibraryThing, an online book cataloguing platform, back in 2007, and even then I didn’t make a habit of properly tracking my reads until perhaps 2010.
But now that it’s really easy for me to see how many books I read last year and the year before and the year before that and feel gratified by the increasing number (while also being very conscious of the rising number of to-reads). Last year, I think I drove myself to read quicker than I normally would just to push past the magical 50 mark. This year, I’ve been taking my time more, so now I’m behind where I was this time last year.
I suspect that if I abandoned LibraryThing altogether I’d be even slower to get through the to-read pile. But then I wouldn’t get all the great recommendations that I do through the automated recommendation tool and the forums. But then… if I didn’t get those recommendations, perhaps I wouldn’t have so many books to read, and I wouldn’t feel guilty about re-reading!
It’s a hopeless situation. My compromise is to try my hardest to stop being so bothered by how many books I read (and, really, what difference does it make and who really cares?!), focus more on reading better books, and perhaps find some space for another bookcase. And if focusing on quality means returning to books that I already know for a fact to be brilliant, then so be it.