The Books People Reread Over and Over Again

To reread or not to reread? That is the question every book lover must answer.

Rereading

All readers have their desert-island books, the ones that they would swipe from their burning house before escaping the smoke, and the books they return to over and over and over again. It is the last scenario—the books we return to—that had me turning to social media for a little crowd-sourcing. I put out a call on Facebook and began trawling the internet for commonly reread books. And while some of the books I saw people returning to were ones that I could have guessed, many were surprising to me.

The common ones are probably fairly obvious in some ways, if only because many of us would probably choose these if asked the question of what books we reread and had only ten seconds to answer it. That list includes:

  • The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
  • The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  • The various Sherlock Holmes stories and novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Basically everything by Toni Morrison.
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

And O! The list goes on…

  • Middlemarch by George Eliot
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  • Everything by Junot Diaz
  • Bleak House by Charles Dickens
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  • Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
  • Everything by Octavia Butler
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Everything by Margaret Atwood
  • The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  • Everything by Neil Gaiman
  • His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman
  • Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

This list can go on for a bit, but this is a condensed version of the common ones that I found, both in the comments I received from friends and through online sources. These feel somewhat predictable. Big books, books many of us have heard of, that many of us are exposed to. That’s not to say that they aren’t important—they are. And we return to these for good reasons.

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Take Octavia Butler for example. She’s won multiple Nebula and Hugo awards, she is the first science fiction writer to receive the MacArthur “genius” grant, and her books are wonderfully written, amazingly plotted, and also deeply socially conscious (sci-fi is a genre that is often neglected in “serious literary circles” because it’s perceived as somehow unliterary, but the genre often reflects on human nature, present-day society and its problems, and other serious topics). Similarly, Margaret Atwood’s books are harrowing and beautiful at once, often somewhat speculative, sometimes all-out dystopic, and occasionally totally contemporary fiction.

The “classics,” as we’ve come to know many books published before, say, 1940 or so, stretching from Beowulf to the works of Shakespeare to the modernist writers like Fitzgerald, are often read and reread for different reasons. We find something in these works, deeply flawed as some of them may be. Yes, many are sexist or racist or classist or simply unaware that these are issues to contend with at all, but they’re also products of their time and bring us into a world that we’re not familiar with. Anyone who loves Jane Austen has probably had that brief fantasy, wondering what it would be like to be Elizabeth Bennet, able to read and write and take walks all day long. Dickens’ works explore an England no longer familiar (London is, at least visibly, a lot cleaner than it was in Dickens’ day). Fitzgerald and his ilk looked at a society that is totally foreign to most of us—grand parties, dramatic occurrences on the French Riviera, cigarettes being smoked luxuriously with no worry yet as to the health risks, and generally vices being quite deeply indulged.

There’s an escapism to books we read and reread. That’s part of why another list of commonly reread books is full of the books we had to time to pursue over and over again as kids, such as:

  • The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
  • Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
  • Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
  • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • Go, Dog, Go by P. D. Eastman
  • The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
  • Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
  • The Song of the Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce

…and more.

But what I found myself extremely interested in as I was asking readers what they reread was how many unexpected books I found on their lists. The very first response I got to my question featured The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories by Marina Keegan, a book I’d never heard of before but which is now (along with many of these surprise books) on my TBR pile. It’s a collection of work from a 22-year-old who died in a car crash. Another book that surprised me was Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis, which according to the reader, “contains what are easily the best drunk/hangover scenes in all of literature.”

While going through some old Reddit posts, I found some more surprises, which when I looked back at the comments I received, shouldn’t have really made me blink twice. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is a common beloved book. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas kept coming up on Reddit as well. Murakami’s work, which I’ve often heard people describe as quite difficult at times, is also commonly referred to. And then, both on Reddit and in my comments, a bunch of books that I hadn’t heard of, though the authors’ names were occasionally familiar to me, such as:

  • My Father’s Glory and My Mother’s Castle by Marcel Pagnol
  • Rogue Herries by Hugh Walpole
  • The Babies by Sabrina Orah Mark
  • The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge
  • The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton
  • She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb
  • Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland
  • The Fool’s Progress by Edward Abbey
  • Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds

Rereading books is obviously a highly personal experience. Our exposure to different kinds of books is based on so many factors—the books our parents or guardians had, whether or not books were pushed on us or we discover them ourselves, what books were available to us as we progressed through life, and so much more. There’s a reason why I, for instance, am familiar with so many of the books people wrote about that are above or that haven’t been listed yet (to name a few more: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon; Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson; A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood; Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson; The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O’Connor). But the fact that I’m familiar with some of these books doesn’t mean I reread them all of them. In fact, while I used to be a voracious rereader, in the last few years I’ve dropped the “re” in “reread” because of time constraints and the number of new books I have to read.

When people reread books, it seems to be often for one of these reasons: comfort (the familiarity of a book well-loved), intellectual pursuit (we find new things in books we reread as we grow older; Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf and Little Women by Louisa May Alcott are great examples of this), or a singular unexplainable love (one reader wrote about Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke: “if we’re going to get technical I’ve never stopped reading JS&MN, I just start at the beginning again when I finish it.”) The books we reread tend to change as we grow up: the people who read Go, Dog, Go as kids likely don’t reread the book often now, unless they’re reading it to a child (and hey, no judgment if you’re still enjoying the book—to be fair, I reread picture books whenever I’m around them). One of the favorite responses I got had to do with this changing love: “I have the requisite well-thumbed books of poetry (for a woman to make it to midlife, this is essential); I used to sleep next to Rilke, then Eavan Boland, now it’s Eugenio Montale.” As I see it, she’s speaking to the absolute necessity of rereading, be it poems, novels, non-fiction, memoir, essays, or children’s books.

I definitely know people who don’t reread books and haven’t since they were kids. I also know people who reread books so often that they don’t read new books as often as they’d like to. Either way, it’s as personal a choice as any in reading, but one that feels like a fascinating exploration of what’s moved us, stuck with us, and has changed how we think or feel or live.

What books do you reread? Tell us in the comments—we want to add your picks to our TBR piles!


Featured image: Oxy_gen/Shutterstock.com

About Ilana Masad

Ilana Masad

ILANA MASAD is an Israeli-American writer living in New York. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Tin House, Printer’s Row, The Toast, The Butter, The Rumpus, Hypertext Magazine, and more. She is the founder of TheOtherStories.org, a podcast for new, emerging, and struggling writers. She is (way too) active on Twitter @ilanaslightly.

  • I’ve re-read Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. It’s been one of my favorites since middle school. I found it in my school library on one of the rare occasions I borrowed a book. It feels all mine

  • Dorothy batten

    Mrs Mike by Benedict and Nancy Freedman
    The Far Pavillions by M M Kaye
    A peaceable kingdom by Ardith Kennally

  • meekyn

    I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read The Color Purple. The Stephen King over-and-over rereads are mainly It, The Stand, The Green Mile, and Skeleton Crew; but From a Buick 8 has seen two go-rounds (and Joyland and 11/22/63 will be joining the reread list soon). The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden are both repeat reads. Christopher Moore’s The Stupidest Angel is an annual laugh riot. Going way back to when I was a kid, Ghosts I Have Been was a favorite and I’ve since re-read it as an adult – and will again, because it’s still hilarious, still scary. I’ve been through Audrey Rose probably four times since my late teens. No wonder I can’t get through my TBR list!

  • Margaret Ann Elder

    The Grapes of Wrath

  • Denise LittleUni Null

    James Clavell ShoGun is my go to re read. But also, Twilight series, anything by Rachel Mead, anything by Sherrylynn Kennyon, anything by Carrie Vaughn, anything by Piers Anthony… I could go on and on

  • Fred_the_Dog

    The Wonderful O, Alice in Wonderland (why is this not on the list?), I Start Counting, LOTR, Stranger in a Strange Land, Count of Monte Cristo, Good Omens, among others (also all of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series). I read 3-4 books or more every week (at least 2 of them new to me). I reread Alice in Wonderland at least once a year. The others I’ve read at least 4 times, but likely more. I love books. I started reading before I ever got to kindergarten and I guess as a consequence of that, I read really fast with a high retention rate.

  • Christine Bowles

    I’ve read the A Song Of Ice And Fire series (the finished books anyway) by George R. R. Martin at least five times. The books are absolutely amazing and they always suck me right into them!

  • Kathy Thomas

    I’ve read In Search of Lost Time all the way through three times. Love it!

  • Marg Love

    Wait Til Next Year, my favorite memoir by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Shores of Paradise a beautiful historical.fiction of Hawaii. And any of the Albert Payson Terhune collie stories.
    The Kite Runner and Light Between Oceans are two I know I will reread a couple more times.

  • Lynn Carter

    This is a world-wide phenomenon of people who read and reread and reread In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust. I am familiar with this happening in an up-close and personal way. My husband is a Proust scholar and biographer and his on-line course, in which he helps readers understand Proust, line by line, volume by volume in over 30 lectures, has adherents from all over the world, many of whom come back time and again to this great work. These readers are from all walks of life, all ages, and share a love for the Proustian world, a world that evidently opens its wisdom, satire, and humor more and more with each reading.

  • Love Airlines…

    I have reread and reread Maeve Binchy’s books until I’ve had to get another copy. When I was younger, I read The Diary of Anne Frank several times, and of course, The Velveteen Rabbit. A good book is like an old friend, and just as beloved!

  • Tina Michelle

    The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Hawaii, by James Mitchner, and A Wrinkle in Time series by Madeline L’Engle are some of my “will always re-read” favorites.

  • Jean Lewis

    Little Women, Gone With the Wind, The Diary of Anne Frank, anything by Richard Russo, and the book I would want on a deserted island is The Chosen, by Chaim Potok. I always find some new understanding and emotion in his words.

  • Cindy McMahon

    While the very real PRESSURE to stay up-to-date with new and wonderful books precludes my re-reading very much, I do enjoy the sensation of visiting with old friends when I DO re-read something: “Romeo and Juliet”, The Chosen, To Kill a Mockingbird, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMN (don’t laugh – it’s super!). . .

  • Paula Lestini

    The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak; his use of language is truly artful. To Kill a Mockingbird, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, A Prayer for Owen Meany, Little Women.

    • Gail

      We must have similar reading tastes- I love all of these books!

  • Bonnie Oswald

    Yummies!!!!!

  • erika p

    A song of Ice and Fire series (Game of Thrones & the rest) by George RR Martin is made to be reread. There is so much in them that is easily missed on the first read and so many things that link together throughout.
    A few more of my favs are:
    The Secret History by Donna Tartt, She’s Come Undone & I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb, East of Eden by John Steinbeck, Perfidia by Judith Rossner, The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons, Endless Love by Scott Spencer, Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates, Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides….and many more. I have always reread books, going back to Beverly Cleary & Judy Blume days. I have reread Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume this week.

  • I’d have to include “The Secret Garden” and even “Thumper,” the first because it was probably my start as a lifelong reader; the second because I hear my mother’s voice whenever I read it.

  • Cat Degges

    the valdemar books by mercedes lackey. particularly arrows of the queen.

  • Hannah Six

    For years, I reread Rosamunde Pilcher’s final four novels (September, Winter Solstice, and my favorites, The Shell Seekers and Coming Home)—interspersed with new-to-me works, of course! They’re beautifully written, satisfying, comforting works of domestic fiction. I’m an Angliophile, so her UK point-of-view also adds to my enjoyment.

  • Amy DeLieto Shanahan

    Jane Eyre, Little Women, many works of Anne Tyler, lots of nonfiction by Anne Lamott…my 7 year old and I have already reread Charlotte’s Web three times together.

  • TarheelBookworm

    I am a very eclectic reader, i go from genre to genre and working in a middle school I also enjoy many of the YA books our students read. Rereading a book to me is like visiting an old friend that I haven’t seen in a while. I always learn something different every time i reread a book. Some of my favorites include: A Prayer for Owen Meany, Ordinary Grace, 11/22/63, The Green Mile, The Stand: The Complete & Uncut Edition, To Kill a Mockingbird, Harry Potter series, Sharyn McCrumb’s Ballad Series, The Pillars of the Earth, Fish in a Tree, Wonder, The Hobbit series, A Dangerous Fortune, Anne of Green Gables, Adriana Trigiani’s Big Stone Gab series, Anne Frank, some Harlan Coben and John Grisham.

  • Robert Riehemann

    I know that it is against the law to be serious about science in these forums, but I must admit that I reread Spivak’s, Calculus on Manifolds, The Feynman Lectures on Physics and the Landau and Lifshitz, Course of Theoretical Physics. Of course I also reread, Dostoyevski’s, The Brothers Karamazov and Primo Levi’s, The Drowned and the Saved, and Bradbury’s, Fahrenheit 451 and the poems of ee cummings, Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson.

    • Shelly Sullivan Nuessle

      I read Feynman every year. And it must pass through the placenta; my youngest is studying theoretical physics in college and got a alley at her school named Feynman Place.

      I also read Mastery every year or so.

  • safari4ad

    The Secret History by Donna Tartt. And I swear I didn’t know you wrote an article about hating it, lol. I know everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but it’s such an amazing book! There are tons more, of course, but this is my most reread and my most recommended. I think I’m on my 6th or 7th copy.

    • NMMom

      I love this book, so realistic and marvelous. My absolute favorite by Tartt.

  • Yolanda Pupo Thompson

    A Christmas Carol, once a year or nearly so. Any Evelyn Waugh when I’m feeling blue and any and all Agatha Chrsties when I have a cold. I can read some of hers over and over again-like Murder on the Orient Express, or The ABC Murders. And of course Sherlock Holmes stories.

  • Heather Spring

    I am amazed that none of these lists contain Tolkien ‘ s Lord of the Rings trilogy, which I’ve read 4 or 5 times over the course of my life.

    • Marcie Gamesalot

      I was shocked by this omission, as well

  • Trisan Garnett

    I read Jane Austen every summer between Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice. Other favorites are the Emily series by L.M.Montgomery, anything by Amanda Quick (I know), and Gail Carriger ‘ s Parasol Protectorate series. I always chuckle out loud when I read it.

  • Linda Gabriel

    Besides Austen (I rotate through her novels, reading one every year), other favorites that I’ve read multiple times and plan to read again include Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Of Mice and Men by Steinbeck, The Giver by Lois Lowry, and Roll of Thunder, Hear my Crystal by Mildred Taylor.

  • sallyjanevictor

    The Dragonriders of Pern series–just the Anne MacCaffrey books, not those by her son–and The Eliot Trilogy by Elizabeth Goudge. Oh, and Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books. And John O’Donahue’s books. And Lucille Clifton’s poetry. Stop me! Too many well-loved books and authors in my life. Wait! T.H. White and Mary Renault. Okay. Stopping now. I mean it.

  • Marta Pogorski

    Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis. I’ve read it at least 6 times; and that’s not counting when I read it out loud to my kids. It’s my “go to” book when things in my life are not right.

    • iluvbooks

      One of my favorites!!

  • pcdiva1964

    On my reread pile: The Future History books by Robert Heinlein
    The Outlander series and Lord John Gray novels by Diana Gabaldon
    The Anita Blake series by Laurell K Hamilton
    Every series by Anne Bishop
    The Keeper series and the Gunny series by Tanya Huff
    Pern series and Ship who and PTB by Anne McCaffrey
    The Valdemar series, SERRAted Edge, Guardian, and Mage fairy tale series from Mercedes Lackey
    Firestarter and Blind Seer series by Jane(?)Lindskold

    There are more, but I can’t think of them right now. I also read every work of these authors that I can find, I just don’t constantly reread all of their works.

    I used to include Darkover, but can’t any more after learning about the child abuse in the household.

  • Marcie Gamesalot

    The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings both by Tolkien, Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls, Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, and Robert Jordans Wheel of Time series.

  • COOPER

    My favorite ‘re-reads are The Stand and Needful Things by Stephen King
    Great Expectations
    and all of Agatha Christie

  • Karen Melk

    I’ve re-read The Book Thief and Stones From the River (Ursula Hegi) 3x……..still find new things to move me

  • Olive

    I reread The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and everything by Ransom Riggs.

  • Ken Rodriguez

    I’m almost finished with Something Wicked this way Comes (Ray Bradbury), and loving it even better!

  • Sandy Curtis

    Stephen King’s The Stand

  • Linda

    Every two years or so I listen to all 21 of my Recorded Books editions of Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey/Stephen Maturin seagoing adventures, read by the late, great Patrick Tull. As familiar as these stories are I never tire of them or of hearing Tull’s wonderful voice.

  • iluvbooks

    I’ve reread “Gone With the Wind” many times over!!! The characters, the setting, the romance, the flirting…..one of my favorite books of all time!

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