One of the interesting things I’ve noticed about this month’s horror novel marathon is that I’ve been re-reading more books than usual. I’ve re-read Shaun Hutson’s “Relics” , Clive Barker’s “The Hellbound Heart“, S. D. Perry’s “Resident Evil: City Of The Dead“, James Herbert’s “The Rats” and I’m currently re-reading Graham Masterton’s “The Hymn”.
Before I got back into reading regularly the best part of a year ago, I hardly ever re-read books. The idea of it seemed absurd, especially when I could just read another book where I didn’t know what was going to happen next.
So, naturally, this made me think about re-reading and I thought that I’d offer a few random thoughts.
1) Leave it at least a decade: Re-reading novels is only truly fascinating when a lot of time has passed since you last read the book. Personally, I’d suggest leaving it at least a decade for the best results. After this amount of time, you’ll often only have a hazy memory of the entire storyline and maybe a clear memory of a couple of scenes. This, of course, allows the book to surprise you once again.
And, yes, books can surprise you when you only remember them vaguely. This can be both a good and a bad thing. On the plus side, you can notice things like great descriptions, interesting themes, plot twist foreshadowing, subtle details etc… that you might have missed the first time around. On the downside, parts of a story that have aged badly can be a lot more noticeable when you re-read a book many years later.
Re-reading a book after more than a decade is also interesting because of the fact that you’ll probably be a fairly different person to the one you were when you first read it. You’ll be more mature, you’ll be more intelligent and your imagination will be more well-developed. In other words, you’re more likely to discover hidden depths that you might not have noticed the first time round.
2) Choose carefully: If you read a lot, then books will be connected with your memories of the past. With most of the books I’ve re-read, I can usually remember something about where and when I originally read them. So, re-reading books can be a good way to evoke rose-tinted memories of your past.
On the other hand, this can be a reason to be selective about which books you re-read. When you re-read a book, you can also create a new set of memories surrounding it that can sometimes crowd out or dilute your older memories. You’ll be older than you were when you first read it and you’ll probably also be re-reading it in a different context too.
Whilst this can sometimes be a good thing, be careful with re-reading books that are linked to your very best memories and/or which seem to symbolise especially great times in your life. Sometimes, it is best to keep these books as a fond memory – however much you really want to re-read them.
So, choose what you re-read carefully. When you re-read, you are overwriting your past.
3) Read new books too: Seriously, I can’t stress this enough. Read new books too! Not only will this give you something to re-read in the future, but it’ll also allow you to get more out of the books that you re-read too.
For example, reading several modern horror novels over the past few months has allowed me to see how the older 1970s-90s horror novels I’ve been re-reading differ from them. It has allowed me to see how the genre has changed over the decades (eg: modern horror novels tend to focus more on atmosphere, psychological horror etc… than gory horror). It has also dispelled the myth that the horror genre has declined in recent years. If anything, it has got scarier!
Reading new books also reminds you of the value of a good story. It stops you from focusing on just one author (and being limited to reading only the novels that they have written). Having to search for new reading matter also means that you’ll probably end up finding brilliant books by authors that you’ve never read before.
So, don’t fall into the pattern of just re-reading the same books or authors again and again. Re-reading can be awesome, but you also need to read modern books and/or books that you haven’t read before.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂