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Would You Rather Read a New Book or Re-Read an Old One?

We had an interesting, if brief, discussion at lunch today. Trent mentioned how it was about time to re-read the Dune novels again. I asked why, when there are plenty of other things to read?

My comment stemmed from my recollection of re-reading Dune specifically. I enjoyed it immensely the first time, but the second time (which I did as a precursor to finally reading the sequels) was a much less enjoyable experience. I think in the case of Dune I derived pleasure from the plot details and surprises which were still vividly remembered on the re-read, thus resulting in a less enjoyable re-read.

It depends on the book, I suppose. I still want to go back and re-read The Man Who Fell to Earth by Walter Tevis. But there is an incredible backlog of books that I haven’t read yet want to. Seems like there is less reason to re-read old books when there are new ones to discover.

What about you? Do you like re-reading books? Which ones and how often?

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

23 Comments on Would You Rather Read a New Book or Re-Read an Old One?

  1. I dream of being able to re-read some of my favourite novels. I do re-read graphic novels and comics from time-to-time – recently the first 80-odd issues of Hellblazer so I could carry on from where I left off a few years ago. But yeah, loads of titles I want to re-read…

  2. The Man Who Fell to Earth is one of the few books I can stand to re-read. It only ever gets better.

  3. Sigh* Re-reading. Some writing is like a flavor of ice cream! I need to taste it again! I’ve gotten a theme or a phrase in my head and just had to go read that book again. Say, with Jericho, I remembered that there was this PA book by Emma Bull–it’s in that drawer . . .

    (Also, I tend to be “blessed” with the sort of memory that could read some books several times over and not retain details, so it’s like The First Time again.)

    I’ll also “shop in my closet” if I’m involved with a project (holiday musicale, for example) and I don’t want to get too involved in a new story.

  4. I have read George RR Martin’s “Song of Ice & Fire” novels more times than I can count, even knowing the surprises and plot twists. His style of writing just appeals to me, and his characters and dialogue are top notch. Even knowing what the characters are doing in any given point in the book doesn’t detract from how enjoyable it is to “watch” them.

    Also his writing is deep without pounding you in the face and becoming complex. As I read each book over and over, I notice new and different things that I missed on the previous reads.

  5. I was thinking just the same thinng this morning, and about Dune too XD

    I think it was that Frank Herbert Video that you guys posted before, that made me desire to read Dune again, but its true, there is so much new stuff to read. But I dont want to get surprised by a bad writer or a bad book, so I have some time that I only read the books that people that I trust has already read, and only read what that people says is real good 🙂

    That saves me a lot of time, of course Im missing of discover new things that i could like for myself, then, I only read new stuff when I have plenty of time (not getting much of that lately).

    Re reading is a good thing with moderation, for example I used to read The Lord of the Rings at least one time by year, what happened? the last time I try to re read The Lord of the Rings it was boring because I almost knew everything by memory, so moderation 😉

  6. Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead / Xenocide / Children of the Mind are my number #1 re-read. Followed by a close second of Neal Stephenson’s Diamond Age. I re-read those once every 2-3 years, but mostly I read new stuff (or old stuff I haven’t gotten around to yet)

  7. I reread Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun every few years. I’ve reread the Dune books a few times(Frank Herbert’s, not the travesties that have come after). I reread Michael Moorcock’s books all the time.

  8. I used to re-read books all the time, especially in college: Heinlein, LotR, etc. Then I got a subscription to Locus, found out about all the great new stuff that comes out every month, and that was mostly it for re-reading. There are something I really want to go back to (especially the Book of the New Sun), but with all the other new (or new-to-me) stuff I want to read, I never feel like I have time.

  9. Well, I think it entirely depends on the novel. I’ve read 1984 by George Orwell four times now and some others two times or so. I’m also really young, so I haven’t had quite the same amount of time to read stuff as others. I’m 24 and I only started reading really seriously in the last 4 years or so. I was one of those students in high school that hated reading because of all the boring junk that was crammed down my throat.

    Still, there are many books I intend to read again. I’m doing an independent study course for college entirely on the works of Philip K. Dick, which means I get to reread Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? again, among other works I’ve never read before.

    So, the reasons for rereading books, if I do it, is if the book is just so darned good. 1984 is my favorite book ever. Every time I read it I find new things, especially when I read it at an older age, since my maturity level changes how I react to things. I prefer reading new books, obviously, but once in a while an nice oldy is good :).

  10. Matte Lozenge // April 2, 2008 at 5:21 pm //

    Being able to re-read books is the reason I collect books and keep shelves of the “classics” in my home. It takes somewhere around five years for a reading impression to fade to the point where a re-read is again enjoyable and reasonably surprising as my memory is refreshed.

    Also I like to re-read to find out if the books I once considered “classic” still strike me the same way, or if my opinion changes. Re-reading thus becomes an act of self-discovery.

    The science fiction publishing industry goes in waves, it seems, and periodically there are dry periods when little new science fiction is being released that appeals. That’s a good time to re-read, and also hunt for other older classics that I haven’t read yet.

    I recently read The Man Who Fell to Earth for the first time. It was pretty good, without a doubt better than the movie. Would I read it again? Right now I think not, but ask me in a few years and I might change my mind.

  11. My current hour-plus commute has afforded me the time to revisit most of the established SF classics canon in audiobook form, allowing me to spend my free time reading new stuff. Best of both worlds.

  12. Back In The Day, when we hunted for food, raised rudimentary crops, and the book selection was limited to what my parent’s picked up in garage sales, plus the racks of the “five and dime” and drugstores, I would read books again and again and again.

    In college, I also worked full-time, so I had more money. So I bought a wider selection of books (college town means some stores actually sold only books!). But, I still tended to re-read a lot, as my full-time job was working nights as a security guard. Lots of reading time!

    I now read more new stuff than old, but still visit old friends now and again. Just check the Reading Links (Consolidated) link or 2008: The Year in Books for a sampling of old vs. new.

    And also look at 2008: The Year in Shorts to see how the best SF blog on the planet is once again whooping SF Signal’s posterior when it comes to getting through short works.

    I’m just saying.


  13. I remember reading “Dune” for the first time when I was ten years old (a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…) — and I’ve re-read the original “Dune” novel every ten years since then. I tried the sequels, and couldn’t even finish the third one, so I stay with the original novel.

    A guilty pleasure — “Ishmael” a Star Trek pro novel by Barbara Hambly. I just love this book. I reread this book on those days where real life HAS gone to hell in a handbasket.

    “Shogun” by James Clavell is a terrific book to reread. One of the scifi classic authors (Heinlein? Clark? Asimov? one of them) said it was a perfect example of scifi — the stranger in a strange land story.

    Now, “Catch 22” I started reading that book about ten times before I finally was able to read it all the way through. Took me a while to adjust my mind to comprehend all the shenanigans in that book. Although, there are a few things I STILL don’t quite understand…

    Also, Ken Follett’s “Triple,” Victor Canning’s “The Finger of Saturn,” Wilbur Smith’s “Cry Wolf,” and the complete James Bond series (by Ian Flemming), while considered action/mystery/ — do have elements of scifi in them — especially “The Finger of Saturn.” Amazing novel.


  14. This happens to be my “re-read year”.. when I finally get around to rereading my absolute favorites from years past. So far this year I’ve reread 8 Pern books by Anne McCaffrey, 6 David Eddings Belgaraid series, and in the middle of 6 Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman Dragonlance books.

    Generally several years go by inbetween rereads (unless rereading the first book of a series because the second book just came out type thing)

    THey are books that I love dearly.. especially the characters of the books. I need to do this, just like watching my favorite movies over and over.. they just get better for some reason.

  15. There are definitely some books that I’m happy to re-read. The Lord of the Rings is holds my personal record with about 13 readings.

    On the other hand sometimes I’m very disappointed when I re-read books. particular ones I read as a teenager. I guess my tastes are a little more sophisticated now?

    And as others have mentioned there are so many new things to read. So I try to mix in a few old ones along side all the new. But I have to have really enjoyed the book the first time in order to re-read.

    If I didn’t enjoy a book, I don’t care how good it is considered to be, I just can’t bring myself to re-read it.

  16. I re-read books for two reasons. The first is when I simply don’t have any new books available (which is less and less these days now that ebooks are easy to get and I happen to do a lot of reading on my old Toshiba e755). The second set of re-reads are those books that are compelling and entrancing in ways that go beyond simply a good story or fun characters. John Crowley’s Little, Big, Samuel Delany’s Dhalgren, Carlos Fuentes’ Terra Nostra, Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast series come to mind, as well as any number of stories by Harlan Ellison, and all of Tom Robbins’ books.

    I have also re-read all of Frank Herbert’s Dune novels and, probably because I’m odd and perverse, actually find myself more drawn to re-reading God Emperor of Dune more than the others. I think because there is a largeness of scale balanced by an intimate portrayal of Leo as a tragic figure. There was a sense that the ghola’s served a thematic and narrative purpose that grew tenuous in the novels that came after (and I’m not even going to talk about the Brian Herbert/Kevin Anderson travesties).

    Guilty secret: when I was a kid, I read and re-read Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye over and over again. I’m not terribly proud of it, but there it is.

  17. I enjoy rereading and re-rereading Gene Wolfe, JRR Tolkien, Jack Vance. Few other authors hold up over repeated rereadings. No offense to Robert Heinlein, but what there is of him is all on the surface: you get it the first time. Its not bad, in fact it is quite entertaining, but Heinlein is a materialistic hedonist– once you get his basic approach, (“libertarian individualist curmudgeon”) there is no insight into human nature in his philosophy.

  18. New stuff (or first-time reads of classics) tends to dominate my reading time, but a couple of times a year I’ll pull a favourite off the shelf and do a re-read. Every 2-4 years I’ll crack open LOTR or Simmons’ Hyperion books or Robinson’s The Years of Rice & Salt or something by Clarke.

  19. Chris Johnston // April 3, 2008 at 6:22 am //

    Took me about a year to read Dune when I was a kid (probably due to the new vocabulary), but the sequels were much easier. Probably time for a re-read.

    I like to read Niven/Pournelles’s Lucifer’s Hammer every five years or so, but my favorite re-read is Sturgeon’s More Than Human.

    A close second is Robert J. Sawyer’s Hominids.

  20. Some authors write re-readable books, others don’t. And some write wonderfully re-readable scenes, which can be a blessing.

    F’rinstance, I love Asimov’s work, but I can’t pick up an Asimov book just to re-read a scene: it’s an all-or-nothing deal with his books. Bujold, on the other hand, has some great scenes that I can flip to just for a little taste of something I’ve enjoyed before. Heinlein, ah Heinlein: frequently I’ve picked up one of his just to enjoy a scene, and found myself re-reading the whole damn book.

    In general, my re-reading is limited to “I’ve got a few minutes before I have to do something, maybe I’ll just sit down a re-read something.” Most of my reading, of course, is new stuff that I haven’t read before (either to review for SFScope, or because a friend wrote it, or because I need something new for my writing).

  21. Sci Fi Fangirl // April 3, 2008 at 10:13 am //

    There are many books I would not mind re-reading, but I rarely do it because there’s always so many books (classics and recent releases) that I haven’t read yet.

    I rarely set out to re-read, but I have re-read Starship Troopers, my favorites in Bujold’s Vorkosigan series, and admittedly a couple of my favorites in the pocket books Star Trek series. (The ones that are not just your standard episode – usually with original characters playing a major role.) Mostly I end up re reading when for one reason I pick up a book for some reason (perhaps reorganizing my book shelf or packing or unpacking). These are favorites for a reason and they tend to draw me in.

    But no, in general I do not reread.

  22. Joe Iriarte // April 4, 2008 at 1:08 am //

    I haven’t reread as much in the last few years, just because my backlog of stuff I want to read is enormous. But there are a lot of books that I have reread many times, and that I will probably reread again. Some are just for fun. Some books, though, reward rereading. I love it when I reread something and pick up on things I didn’t pick up on before.

    For the last few years, the only rereading I’ve been able to justify doing is when a new book comes out in a series–and only if I REALLY liked the other books in the series. Like Wyn, I don’t have a very good memory for details, so I can still enjoy the books when I reread them. Again, though, I need to have really liked the earlier books, and not merely tolerated them as brain candy.

  23. Malcolm Mackinnon // February 12, 2009 at 10:35 am //

    Reading a book that resonated the first time allows one to remember the joys again, and like a fine wine, age often permits the next reading to deepen and expand the experience. For those who dislike the waste of time (?) reading a book again, may I suggest that maybe not enough books have truly impressed themselves upon their heart and mind. A really significant piece of literature should never be treated as an afternoon’s excursion, but rather as a mine with untold wealth that may be explored again and again to find those wonderful nuggets whose existence gives pleasure for just existing.

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