To re-read or not?


I’m re-reading Cranford at the moment, as it’s my reading group’s choice for December. My main memory from the first time I read it was that it was very funny, and so I’m rather disappointed to find I’m not laughing as much this time round. It is still full of delightful observations and little asides about a society dominated by females though and I’m glad to have it by my side.

But this does raise the question of re-reading. At any time my bookshelves tend to be around two thirds already read, with one third still read. Some books I cannot bear to get rid of but will I read them again? Well, chances are, yes I will. A quick scan of the shelves makes me realise that many of the books sat there have been read more than once. S is making his way through my shelves more and more, but I have also picked up a book for a further read. As a writer, I like the idea that the book isn’t immediately discarded but returned to for a repeat viewing. I get new things from books each time I read them, depending on my mood, how closely I’m paying attention and personal circumstances.

Of course I’ve a suspicion this isn’t normal behaviour. If we’re honest, we know a lot of people who pick up books read them through once and discard them. But for those of us who do re-read books, how do I classify them?


There’s a line in the Winona Ryder film version of Little Women where she says some books are like “an old friend.” (This may be in the book as well but I haven’t re-read it for a while so can’t remember) I feel that way about some of mine. If I don’t re-read these every year, I will get through most of them every other year. Sometimes all you need is someone you can feel comfortable with so these may come out at times of stress when I can’t take anything extra to concentrate on.

  • Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
  • Nobody’s Fool – Richard Russo
  • Brother of the More Famous Jack – Barbara Trapido
  • Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
  • Jane Austen – it used to be Pride and Prejudice but these days more likely Persuasion
  • 84 Charing Cross Road – Helene Hanff
  • Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier

There’s a sub group of these , books that are good friends and will have a re-read once in a while but not as regularly as above. These include Harry Potter, Little Women, and The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif (terrible title, great book.)

Really must get round to…

These are books I have read and I know I enjoyed them but have the sneaking suspicion that I’d probably get more out of them if I re-read them. They are also mostly quite large books that I feel intimidated by. Which is stupid. What is even stupider is that I often recommend them to people, telling them how great they are but somehow dread having to re-read them, in case I now dislike them, in case I no longer understand them, in case…

  • Middlemarch – George Eliot
  • Our Mutual Friend – Charles Dickens
  • Bleak House – Charles Dickens
  • Richard Powers – The Time of Our Singing
  • Virginia Woolf – Mrs Dalloway

I need to finish the series

Books I’ve read the first few and the authors have written more. I can’t just pick up the new one, I might have forgotten a detail from the earlier books…

  • Tales of the City – Armistead Maupin (I have three to read anew, once I’ve got through the six I’ve already read.)
  • Elizabeth Jane Howard – Cazalet Chronicles so I can read the fifth and final one
  • Marilynne Robinson – Gilead and Home, so I can read Lila
  • Kent Haruf – Before I read Our Souls at Night I’ll have to go and read the other Holt books.

It’s a lottery for any others, but I’ll get there.


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