Great writers are great readers. Chances are, if you're a writer, it's because at some point along the road, you fell in love with a book. We asked our writers which books keep drawing them back in and why.
I love revisiting books. I always find little bits that I've missed, or things that make far more sense once you know the ending. Plus, there's something so comforting about reading something you already know the ending of.
The book I revisit the most is Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. It's easily one of my favourite books and it has so many excellent qualities, but the one that draws me back time and time again is the imagery. It's so beautifully written that I can imagine every setting and character perfectly as I read along, and really immerse myself in that storyline. I've read it so many times and I always recommend it to others because it's a little bit different to any other fiction I've read and some of the history it covers is so interesting.
I also revisit a lot of Terry Pratchett's books but very particularly his Wee Free Men series. It's phenomenally written and I just love the characterisation of the wee free men themselves. I've read the series multiple times and never found myself getting bored, it always thoroughly entertains me. I've also been reading his books since I was quite young, so I always find re-reading them to be so reminiscent of being a child. The attention to detail that Pratchett used can't go unmentioned either, as every element of the world he created is designed to draw you in and invite you to stay. It's one of the few book world's I do genuinely wish I could live in.
I also re-read Little Women at least once a year. In my opinion, it's one of the best classics and makes me desperately nostalgic for a life I've never lived. Even though it breaks my hearts in places (no spoilers!) it has a fantastic narrative and is so beautifully written. My favourite thing is how perfectly the strength of their family unit is communicated. I always like to curl up with a cup of tea and escape to their world for a while.
There are so many books that I revisit for so many reasons, but books are the best way to escape from life, so when I find a particularly good one I'll go back as often as I can. Books will just always be like homes to me, so re-reading the best ones is like a brief holiday from whatever life is throwing my way.
My to-read pile is probably taller than me now, not including the ebooks I’ve got backed up on my Kindle. The big problem is that I’m a chronic re-reader. I think I might even love re-reading a beloved favourite more than getting into a brand new book. Sometimes I think I only read new books to find fresh fodder for my infinite repeat list.
I read something somewhere recently that suggested re-watching television shows and movies again and again is a coping mechanism for supporting your mental health, because it’s comforting and familiar and predictable. That makes a tonne of sense to me. This is something I do as well, I have a collection of shows that I’ll watch through and then immediately cycle back to episode one.
In the same way, my bookcase is packed with little worlds that I repeatedly and compulsively revisit. There is one particular book that I probably re-read several times a year. I’m also that maddening person that can’t just read the latest book in a favourite series because I need to go back and revisit the entire series again first. I got the most recent two Dresden Files books for Christmas and I haven’t read them yet because I’m still looking for the time to start from book one (again, for the fifth or sixth time).
Very few of the books I like to re-read are particularly high brow. I love the Dresden Files; the Southern Vampire Mysteries. I will revisit The Hobbit; Good Omens; Red Dwarf; Pride and Prejudice and Wilbur Smith’s River God trilogy probably until the day I die (ideally with book in hand).
Aside from these books, there have been a few books in my lifetime where I’ve read the last page, closed the book, turned it over, and just started again. I did this with Skin Game - my favourite of Butcher’s books. I read Divergent three times back to back. It’s not pretentious literature but I needed a few read throughs to feel like I’d squeezed everything out of it and I actually really love young adult fiction.
Plot isn’t what pulls me back to a book. An immersive world and fantastic characterisation with great character arcs - you know that feeling, when you finish a book and there’s a hole in your life, like you’ve suddenly lost several dear friends and family members - are what bring me back. I don’t want to re-read a book; I want to spend time with people that I really enjoy being with; I want to exist in places that I love being in. I adore chilling in Harry Dresden’s flat or at Bag End.
And then there’s one final reason to re-read a book. When a character you love dies at the end. In literature, you just have to flip back to page one and there they are, resurrected and ready to spend time with you again.
This is the true magic of books.
I love revisiting books. I don’t do it very often but there is something so lovely about pulling out an old favourite, opening the cover and losing yourself in familiar words. Occasionally, when I visit my shelves and run my fingers along the spines looking for something new, I’ll find myself sitting on the floor a hundred pages into an old Steinbeck or a favourite from The Chronicles of Narnia series.
I don’t often finish books that I revisit (unless they’re really short and I get through them in one sitting). Most times, once I put them down and take a break, I don’t come back to them. I think the nostalgia of the moment is the driving force in those situations.
However, I do like to read Kurt Vonnegut over and over. I could spend forever with his words. I’ve recently been reading Cat’s Cradle again. I personally think it might be Vonnegut’s best novel. It is dry and minimal in style. Its characters are massive and endlessly fun to be around. The style of over a hundred short “chapters” - or episodes, if you will - make for easy, accessible reading. Cat’s Cradle, like most of Vonnegut’s work, is hilarious, yet it deals with huge themes and is often rather profound.
I can easily revisit all of Vonnegut’s work and I think I’ll probably continue to do so for a very long time. My personal favourites are Cat’s Cradle, Slaughterhouse Five and Slapstick, or Lonesome No More! Plus, there are still a lot more that I haven’t read yet.
I have to revisit books in my professional capacity; as a teacher of English, there are certain books that stay on the curriculum year in, year out. I greet some with a groan (looking at you, Lord of the Flies), yet there are others that I’m always delighted to see again. I find something new to love about Of Mice and Men every time I read it; somehow the ending still manages to come as a shock after at least fifteen readings. A Christmas Carol is still enjoyable; Dickens’ depiction of the ultimate misanthrope is a hoot, and his descriptive powers are, of course, the best in the business. Reading Dickens when he’s at full pelt is like looking at your favourite painting; have a peek at his depiction of Christmas morning in London. It shines off the page.
Good literature can be a mirror to your own life, and will grow with you. I find, as I get older, that my response to certain set texts changes with every re-read; Romeo and Juliet is a perfect example of this. On my first reading, as a student, I identified with the main characters, and it seemed like the most romantic thing I’d ever read. By the time I’d taught the play a few times, I was more cynical and had completely lost patience with them, wanting more than anything to bang their heads together. Then, as a mother of teenagers, I totally identified with Lord Capulet’s rant at Juliet - we’ve all been there, haven’t we? And now I work with teenagers, I look at Nurse and Friar Lawrence and want to ask them what the hell they were thinking, giving such appalling advice!
Humour is usually what will draw me back to a book; for that reason, Stella Gibbons’ Cold Comfort Farm is a book that I never, ever get bored of reading. I love its irreverence, its characterisation and its good sense; it’s a perfectly-pitched pastiche of the type of pastoral literature that can tend to take itself too seriously, and I find it a great antidote for my tendency to do the same.
Nine times out of ten, though, if I revisit a book it will usually be one by PG Wodehouse. For some bizarre reason, I wasn’t born a wealthy person of leisure between the wars, and the only way to right this injustice is to enter the world of Jeeves and Wooster via the printed page. Wodehouse’s novels are comfortingly formulaic - Wooster will be summoned to a country house by a formidable aunt, end up in a scrape (usually accidentally engaged to be married), from which he will be extricated by his trusty butler, Jeeves. However, within this reliable framework, Wodehouse’s use of language just sparkles. He never fails to make me laugh with his ridiculously perfect similes and puns and the whole effect is like drinking champagne from my favourite mug. Joyous.
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