The Value of Not Only Reading But Also Rereading the Greatest Books
Reading great literature is like partaking in a rich and hearty feast. It nourishes your soul. So why would you read a great book only once? Here’s why you should reread books, and what you gain by becoming a re-reader.
Rereading Your Favourite Books…Over and Over
Guest post by Lisa Varner
I wonder if you have ever experienced a time when you rediscovered a significant piece of who you were–of who you still are? This is what unfolded for me, quite unexpectedly, in 2022.
It all began when I read the most extraordinary novel during the final weeks of 2021, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. I had long wanted to read The Count but just kept letting the years pass by. Finally I reached a place where I thirsted to read more of what was really, really excellent. I hungered to read something that had proved itself worthy of the effort to read its more than 1200 pages.
As I turned the last page of that incredible novel, I felt a shift in my soul. I had returned to one of the greatest passions of my heart: classic literature.
It is surprising that I needed to find my way back again, really. I have always loved beautiful, rich stories. I grew up reading them and spent my early career attempting to inspire teens in my high school English classroom to love them, too. For all the years since, I read excellent literature to my children and many wonderful books in the book clubs I led for their friends. However, classic literature was just a piece of what I read for all during that time. I had chosen to read good books more often than I had chosen to read great books.
The beauty and brilliance of Dumas’ writing changed that. I resolved to read only the greatest of books going forward. No more letting the years continue to pass by. I declared that the fiction I would read in 2022 would be classic literature alone.
As so began the most incredible reading journey of my life to date. One novel at a time, I read a number of the greatest books ever written. By the end of the year, I had read 44 classics! I balanced the titles of those I had never read with those I had long wanted to reread. It was an extraordinary experience. These authors filled my mind and soul with beauty, wisdom and richness. I realized that I was experiencing tremendous spiritual and emotional growth just from reading these incredible stories–from keeping “company with the wise” as Sarah Clarkson states in Book Girl.
One of the surprises of the year was discovering just how very valuable it is not just to read these great books but to also reread them. Most of us don’t need convincing that we ought to read more excellent books, but I suspect fewer of us have experienced just how deeply moving it may be to reread a title that we loved in the past, as well as to reread those whose impact we missed before.
Why You Should Be a Re-reader: 3 Benefits of Rereading Books
Here are several reasons why we should not only read the greatest books but also why we should reread them:
1. Different seasons of life
It is remarkable just how much we change throughout the various seasons of life. What resonates and impacts us varies. I am able to see and understand much from my older perspective that I missed when younger. My list would be long if I were to name all of the favorites that I reread this year for which this proved so very true. How often did I marvel while reading, No wonder I loved this novel! How much have I missed out by not drinking in its beauty and wisdom regularly?
“An unliterary man may be defined as one who reads books once only. . . . We do not enjoy a story fully at the first reading. Not till the curiosity, the sheer narrative lust, has been given its sop and laid asleep, are we at leisure to savour the real beauties. Till then, it is like wasting great wine on a ravenous natural thirst which merely wants cold wetness.”
― C.S. Lewis, On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature
While a beloved book will always remain just that, it is likely that we will grow to love it in new ways as we experience it during different seasons of life. (For those who are curious, this would be especially true for me with Little Women, Jane Eyre, and The Secret Garden–three of my childhood favorites.)
2. Greater appreciation for the writing
I did not anticipate just how valuable this would be. I’ve discovered that because of the skill of these authors, we often grow in our appreciation for their brilliant writing each time we read their works. Let me use my favorite author, Charles Dickens, and one of my favorite novels of his, A Tale of Two Cities, as an example.
I first read A Tale in college and liked it but didn’t love it. I read it for a second time four years ago–about 20 years after my first read–when teaching it to my oldest child. I absolutely loved it and couldn’t stop thinking about it. I then went on to reread it two more times during 2022–on my own and with my classics book club. Those third and fourth reads allowed me an entirely new experience. Because I was so familiar with the plotline at that point (which can be a challenge to track in any work by Dickens), I was able to sit back and wonder at the skill and beauty of his writing. I wasn’t driven by the suspense of seeing how the plot unfolded but could stop and marvel over phrases and passages that were just magnificent. What a treasure!
3. Deeper assimilation of the characters and themes
Who are some of your favorite characters in literature? Undoubtedly they are those whom you deeply admire, love, respect, and even desire to emulate. I believe that with each reading of their stories, we take in more and more of who they are. Each rereading helps us to think of them more often. In other words, rereading books allows us to assimilate a character’s qualities into our hearts and minds and so we have a greater chance of actually growing in their likeness.
Wouldn’t you love to gain the selfless and sacrificial nature learned so beautifully by Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities? I want to possess the courage and strength and refusal to compromise my ideals as did Jane Eyre.
What an accomplishment it would be to maintain kindness and goodness in the face of prolonged ill treatment like Oliver Twist. How I yearn to be filled with Marmee’s wisdom, grace and faith from Little Women.
I want to fully embrace the joy and delight of being who I am made to be as did Dickon in The Secret Garden. Raskolmikov (Crime and Punishment) and Ebenezer Scrooge (A Christmas Carol) show us just how beautiful is the transformation brought about by true and sincere repentance.
May I possess the loyalty of Sam Weller (The Pickwick Papers) and the choice to lay aside vengeance like Edmond Dantes (The Count of Monte Cristo). I want to enjoy all of life’s simple joys and love with all of my heart like Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables.
Every time we re-experience these characters, their qualities that we hold so dear become more a part of us.
These are just a few of the countless benefits of reading and rereading great books.
Something shifted in my soul in late 2021 and the subsequent blessings of my reading journey in 2022 cause me to believe that it is a permanent change. I am resolved to only take in what is truly excellent and wise and beautiful from now on. Classic literature is a passion of my heart and a tremendously important piece of who I am. Since these works display for us the most brilliant and beautiful creations that have been written by humanity, they are an invaluable piece of all of us.
I hope we will devote ourselves to reading and also rereading the greatest books. No more letting the years pass by. May we fill our minds and souls with only what is worthy.
Are you a re-reader? What books have you found value in rereading? Are there any books that you reread every year?
Lisa Varner, a lifelong lover of books, was born and raised in Northern Arizona and now lives in Central Arizona with her husband, their three teenage children, and arguably the world’s best dog. Lisa taught high school English for eleven years, has been homeschooling her children for twelve years and counting, and is also a licensed professional counselor. Besides reading and doing all she can to encourage others to read, Lisa loves to garden and hike. You can connect with her on her Facebook page: Starting a Kids’ Book Club – The Power of Reading Together, which offers many resources for those who would like to lead a book club for kids and teens.
Read these posts next:
- 12 Ways to Improve Your Reading Life
- 101 Best Classic Books to Read in Your Lifetime
- 50 Classic Children’s Chapter Books to Read Aloud with Your Kids
- Tear-Water Tea: My Search for Authors I’ve Missed
- 5 Books that Made Me Fall in Love with British Literature
- How to Read More When You Have Young Kids at Home
- Short Classics for Busy Adults
So many good observations! I re-read one of my favorite children’s novels, Anne of Green Gables, with my children recently. Even having parts of the book memorized, it was amazing how my perspective had shifted and how different parts jumped out to me. The humor, the atmosphere, and especially the character of Marilla, made this reading different and new for me. So good!
Yes, when I re-read Little Women for the first time as an adult, I noticed and appreciated Marmee so much more!
Each Christmas season for years now, with very few years missed, I re-read Dickens “A Christmas Carol”, and love it every time. My copy is a version printed in 1923 and was owned by my now gone father. I’ve read “Desiree” by Annemarie Selinko at least 5 times and love it every time. And last summer, after my sister introduced me to “The Blue Castle” by L M Montgomery, I have read it a couple times, and suspect I’ll read it again. Lastly, the book I have picked for the reading challenge for February (the main characters name in the title) will be a re-read of “The Screwtape Letters” by C S Lewis. Really looking forward to it. Spending time again with these “friends”, these books, is always a joy.
Well said. Books can be friends indeed. The Blue Castle is one of my re-reads, and my dad used to read A Christmas Carol to us every year…a tradition I hope to reignite soon with my own kids! I’ve never heard of Desiree, so I’m adding that to my “books recommended by readers” list!
What a great post! One of my greatest joys, now that my children are of “chapter book age,” is reading classic books aloud to them that I loved as a child. I love them just as much, and get even more out of them now as an adult!
100% agree. What a treasure.
What a lovely post! I love to re-read my favourite books but I never really thought about the points raised by Lisa. My most re-read books are Rebecca by Dapne du Maurier and Agatha Christie’s And Then Were None. There are others that I re-read only once like A Tale of Two Cities, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. I’d love to re-read some of Shakespeare’s plays. Maybe I’ll do it this year.
It’s so rewarding to reread mystery novels and see how the author laid everything out. It made me even more impressed with Christie when I reread And Then There Were None!
I read the Little House Series over and over when I was in grade school, because they were my favorite books. I used to play Little House on the Prairie with my sisters if I could talk them into it.
In 2022 I reread the first 8 books with my daughter who is 6 now. I got a new appreciation for ma and how she supported pa in his decision making. And how she raised her daughters to do what’s right and good.
I can’t think of other books that I reread except for devotionals or organizing books.
That’s wonderful. I have so many Little House memories, too! Although I didn’t reread them to myself, my mom read the whole series aloud to us many times. It must’ve been a very hard life at times, but I think the Ingalls were a wonderful family unit and their stories were certainly part of our own stories growing up!