Old Friends (Or the Joy of Re-reading)
I never used to think reading the same book more than once was strange. As a child, I’d read the books I owned over and over, still have many of them and still read them now. I’d also borrow the same book from the library two or three times and enjoy reading it each time, often gaining a fresh perspective on some aspect of the plot or characters that I’d missed first time round.
But apparently not everyone is like that. Most of my friends and family read a book once then shelve it or give it away. In a library I used to work in, people would often ask me to check if they’d had a book before or would come and complain that a book they borrowed turned out to be one they’d already read, like the idea of reading something again was unthinkable.
I don’t understand this. To me, a favourite book is like an old friend. You’re familiar with each other, you never get tired of their company and they can pick you up when you’re feeling down. It was a favourite book that probably first started me on my journey to becoming a writer. Aged 12, off sick from school and stuck in bed, re-reading Swallows and Amazons, I decided to enhance the whole experience by writing my own diary version. In an old notebook I recorded the events in Swallowdale as if I was there, complete with illustrations and stuck in messages sent via arrow from the Amazons. I might have been using another writer’s characters and plot but I was also creating something new.
We live in a throwaway society and, as writers, maybe we should be grateful that readers seem to want to read something only once then move on to the next story. After all, that ensures a fresh supply of stories will always be needed. But I’m convinced there’s much to be gained from re-reading too.