The Pleasures of Rereading

09/19/2011 05:06 pm ET | Updated Nov 19, 2011

Rereading books can induce feelings of guilt. After all, we're busy and only have so many years on earth. Shouldn't we spend our free hours trying great novels we never tried before?

Yet reading a beloved book twice, thrice, or more is a craving that can't be denied. It's pleasurable, comforting, and relaxing -- partly because you don't have to figure out what the author is doing from scratch. Also, repeat reading allows us to discover elements in a novel that we missed or were only dimly aware of the first time. And if a decade or more has elapsed since the initial perusal of pages, we're (hopefully) more mature and can appreciate the book in a way we couldn't before.

That was the case for me with The Scarlet Letter. When I first read it in high school, my immature mind pegged the novel as mostly a bunch of moralistic claptrap. I reread it last year, and was enthralled with Nathaniel Hawthorne's nuanced look at "sin" and human nature.

Among the many other books I appreciated more on a years-later second reading were (no surprise) Herman Melville's Moby-Dick and Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Then there are novels I mostly "got" the first time, but loved them so much that I read them again (and again). These include Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, L.M. Montgomery's The Blue Castle, Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books, and J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, to name a few.

But a novel doesn't have to be an all-time classic to pull you in for multiple readings. I've read His Dog four times, even though it's kind of formulaic and over-sentimental. But Alfred Payson Terhune's tale of a canine who turns around the life of a poor, alcoholic farmer never fails to move me.

I've also frequently reread a non-classic baseball novel I've owned since I was a kid. Dick Friendlich's Relief Pitcher -- about a utility infielder who's injured by a showboating teammate and then later returns to the Major Leagues as a hurler for an opposing team -- is a somewhat cliched, middle school-level paperback that I should have outgrown. But, heck, I like it! And there's the nostalgia of rereading a book as an adult that you first enjoyed as a child.

Then there are the cases where I didn't intend to reread a book until something very specific happened. For instance, I loved The Count of Monte Cristo when I read it in college, but Alexandre Dumas' riveting revenge saga was so darn long that cracking its pages a second time never entered my mind. But a 2007 trip to Marseille and the Chateau d'If -- the rocky island fortress where Edmund Dantes was imprisoned in Dumas' book -- had me rushing to the library after I returned from France.

I had actually forgotten much of The Count of Monte Cristo before I devoured a second helping of it, which reminds me of another rereading benefit: If enough time has elapsed before revisiting a book, the novel can seem almost new! Of course, if you do remember much of a book, you lose the element of surprise involved in perusing a novel for the first time.

What are the pros and cons of rereading for you? And which books have you particularly enjoyed picking up again? I just might read each comment twice!

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