Confessions of a Chronic Rereader

By Chelsey Roos

I currently have 80 books checked out from the library. They take up half a bookcase, and overflow onto the floor. I have easily another 100 books waiting to be read, exciting finds from my local used bookstore that I delighted in discovering. My Want-To-Read list currently numbers in the 900s. And yet, I am a chronic rereader.

Rereading gets a bad rap. Caring adults often wring their hands when their children only want to read and reread a beloved favorite series, again and again. Are they stunting their reading progress? Without the challenge of new reading material, won’t they fall behind their peers? When I mention in casual conversation that I’ve read one of my favorite books (the Wild Magic series, by Tamora Pierce) at least fifty times, I get scoffs and confusion from the skeptics, but knowing nods from other chronic rereaders.

What is it about rereading that brings such joy? As very young children, we love to hear the same story again and again (and again and again, as any parent will tell you). Hearing The Very Hungry Caterpillar four times a day helps young readers begin to understand the structure of a story. This is how a book begins. This is how it develops. This is the warm comfort of a satisfying ending. When kids become school-age, and start to read on their own, rereading allows them to take in details they couldn’t absorb on first pass. When you’re too busy sounding out the complicated word “beautiful,” you can’t take in the actual beauty of Frog and Toad.

As an adult, rereading is like visiting with an old friend, and seeing how we’ve both changed. There are certain books and series I reread almost every year – Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, the works of Rainbow Rowell and Robin Stevens – because they have an atmosphere that transports me to another world. And sometimes, I desperately need another, reliable world. Sometimes I need a safe space to land in comfort. Of course, sometimes even reliable favorites suddenly take on a new tinge. Sometimes, even though these works are the same, my feelings about them have changed – the actions of an author might tarnish my relationship with a beloved series, for example – and other times, I can fall effortlessly in to another time and place.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that I’m not also constantly pulled toward new books. Working at the library means being surrounded by shiny new books (and if you’ve heard the rumor that librarians get to spend all day at work reading, it isn’t true! All my reading and rereading is done under a fluffy blanket on evenings and weekends). How can you find new favorites, after all, to read again next year, without reading new books? But in times of stress, or sadness, or overwhelming ennui, rereading is what I turn to.

And loving grown-ups, if you’re worried that your child will never move past reading the same book over and over again, destined to drop out of high school having only read Dog Man, never fear. I spent the entirety of fourth grade reading Garfield comic collections, and I graduated just fine.