We writers have all been there. You’ve finished reading your current book, and start searching through your lengthy TBR list for your next adventure. But as your eyes skim over the list’s many titles, you realize all you really want to do is read the Harry Potter or Hunger Games books for the zillionth time.
You end up feeling guilty about this inclination. There are so many great new books coming out all the time. You should be reading those instead of your worn favorites that you practically know by heart. Taking in as much new content as you can is how you’ll grow as a writer. Right?
Wrong. As a writer who has reread The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman more times than I can count, I can say that there are actually some huge benefits to rereading your favorite books. In fact, I would go as far as to say that you may be able to improve your writing even more from rereading books than from reading new ones.
Here are some of the ways rereading your favorite novels will help you to study storytelling and become a better writer.
Learning Your Writerly Likes and Dislikes
The novels you choose as your favorites say a lot about you as not just a reader, but as a writer. Most of us strive to write the types of books we like to read, after all. Rereading your favorite books will help you to figure out the genres that will suit you best as a writer.
I, for example, have always loved science fiction and fantasy. So it’s not a huge surprise that when I first put pen to paper and tried to write my own novel, it was an epic fantasy story. Everything I’ve written since—a dystopian novel and a dark fantasy—both fall into the sci-fi/fantasy category as well.
You shouldn’t feel confined by just one genre, though. You probably don’t enjoy reading just one, right? In addition to sci-fi/fantasy, I also love historical fiction and a good, character-driven romance. So those elements have found their way into my work as well. Rereading the books you love will help you get to know yourself as a writer, and the sort of writer you want to be.
Studying Voice and Perspective
In addition to genre, rereading favorite books will help you to recognize the sorts of narrative voices you like best. You may find yourself reading third-person omniscient books where you can dip into any character’s head whenever you like. Or perhaps you’re more drawn to the intimacy of a first-person perspective.
Tense is another aspect of a book’s voice and perspective that you’ll begin to notice more as you reread a book. A lot of books are written in past tense, but you may find you like the immediacy of present tense. It’s likely that you’ll most enjoy writing from the perspective that you most enjoy reading.
I personally tend to switch back and forth between third-person past and first-person present depending on the story. So it’s not a huge surprise that these are my favorite perspectives to read as well. Rereading books will give you the chance to notice these sorts of aspects of a story that you may not have paid much attention to the first time around. Which brings us to our next section!
The Opportunity to Read as a Writer
The first time you read a book, you are reading it as a reader. You are a passenger along for the ride as the novel guides you through its twists and turns. While you may take note of a lovely line or two as you read, you are mostly just sitting back and letting the story wash over you.
Rereading is different. Now that you’ve already walked this path, you have the chance to take in details you completely missed on your first reading. You’ll be able to see the book as a whole and begin to study its worldbuilding and structure. At first, you were just a spectator—now you’re a student eager to learn.
In my opinion, a first read should be purely for entertainment’s sake. You shouldn’t be trying to learn anything at all, apart from the life lessons any great story imparts. It is through rereading that you will truly be able to take in what works about these books and why they’re your favorites. Studying these books will help you to implement what you like best about them in your own writing.
One thing I’ve mentioned on the blog before that I like to do when rereading a book is dog-ear the bottom of the page when I find a turn of phrase or bit of dialogue I love. But I never underline which line it is. Then, when I read the book again and reach a dogeared page, I try to find the line I liked so much. If I can’t figure out which one it is, I realize it must not be as great as I originally thought. But if I find it right away, I’ll have found a piece of writing I truly love and can learn from.
I know I said before that your first read should be for entertainment, but that doesn’t mean rereading can’t be fun. And you certainly don’t have to take a studious approach to each reading. You’re welcome to reread books for fun to your heart’s content. They’re your favorites! Just imagine if you had your favorite food for the first time and someone told you that you could never have it again. Or if you only got to wear your favorite shirt once.
Like lasagna and that Led Zeppelin t-shirt you love, your favorite books are meant to be enjoyed as many times as you like. So don’t feel guilty for not picking up a new book as your next read, and instead going back to the one you love. Pluck that well-worn copy of Dune by Frank Herbert off the shelf, or reopen Katherine Monroe’s Light & Darkness trilogy right here on Fictionate.Me, and enjoy!
Whether you’re rereading a book for a second, third, or seventy-fifth time is nothing to be ashamed of. It will give you a chance to revisit worlds and characters you love, and can even make you into a better writer.