Today is a Good Day to (re)Read

by Steve Laube

The pleasure of reading

What was the favorite book you read, cover to cover, in the last year or so? Why is it your favorite? (It can be fiction or non-fiction. Faith-based or not.) Feel free to tell us in the comments about yours.

Read it Again

Now that you’ve identified the book. Read it again. As Vladimir Nabakov wrote:

Curiously enough, one cannot read a book: one can only reread it. A good reader, a major reader, an active and creative reader is a rereader. – from Nabokov’s speech “Good Readers and Writers” (pdf link) delivered in his 1948 Lectures on Literature (Amazon link).

That may seem like an overstatement. After all we have only so much time in a day. Why am I suggesting this?

Learn From the Best

The first time you read a book, if you are able to turn off your editing instincts, you are caught up in the story, the characters, or the non-fiction point the teacher is trying to make. But this time, while you reread, look for the technique of the writer. Look at the structure and argument trail. Note how a character is described for the first time, and when that happens. Try to discover what made this a magical book for you.

The beauty of this is that you are no longer entranced by the “what-if” or the conclusion. You know where the book is going. So now you can use the book as a teacher of writing.

I even recommend reading with multi-colored pencils or pens at the ready. (A little harder to accomplish with an e-reader…) Use one color for emotion. Another for major points. Another for descriptions. Another for anecdotes. (I’m mixing fiction and non-fiction in my examples on purpose.) Let the great writers teach you.

Immersive Reading

In addition, the second or third time through a book you may find an idea you missed the first time. For example, I suspect you may have read C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity a while ago. I can almost guarantee that if you reread it today it will speak to you again, but in a new way because you are likely in a different place spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally than you were the first time. (And if you’ve never read it? Please put it at the top of your list.)

Even a great novel can do the same. A few months ago I suggested that you bring your own story to each novel or non-fiction book you read (“The Story We Bring to the Story”). Therefore the next time you read a favorite novel it may take you down a different street or you might find a new idea or meet a new person. Recently I reread Dune by Frank Herbert, one of the greatest science fiction novels of all time. I was struck by the power of religion in the lives of each character, something I glossed over the first time because of the extraordinary saga that was told.

Enjoy your (re)reading experience. Tell us what you discovered!

18 Responses to Today is a Good Day to (re)Read

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    Julie Saffrin January 21, 2013 at 3:12 am #

    Great post, Steve. I am rereading Gordon MacDonald’s “Ordering Your Private World.” Thanks for giving instruction on how to reread it. As I work through the non-fiction book, I am amazed at the timelessness of the book and at the relevancy of his advice even though his book is more than a decade from its first publication. Godly wisdom always stays so. Thank you for this helpful post as I work to be a better writer.

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      Dave Arnold January 21, 2013 at 7:43 am #

      I too am reading MacDonald’s “Ordering Your Private World.” It’s a book I read in college years ago; and I’m amazed at the insights I’m gleaning now that I missed back then.
      Great post.

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    Diana Harkness January 21, 2013 at 5:27 am #

    What I read and reread: 1. The Bible; 2. Everything by C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, Frederick Buechner, and Marilynne Robinson; 3. The Last Sin Eater by Francine Rivers; 4. Poetry. I read most current non-fiction on my Kindle and take notes while reading, because I am unlikely to take the time to reread it.

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    Lisa January 21, 2013 at 6:47 am #

    I really love Henri Nouwen, so much wisdom 🙂

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    Sally Bradley January 21, 2013 at 6:53 am #

    In December I reread Siri Mitchell’s Chateau of Echoes. I think it’s my fifth time through. Clearly I love that book.

    Sometimes I note the details–the food, colors, room decor (It does take place in a French chateau). Sometimes I pay more attention to the historical story set in the contemporary. This last time I paid attention to how the minor suspense plot played out, little things that hinted at what was coming at the end. And I did catch little connectors that I’d missed before.

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    Larry W. Timm January 21, 2013 at 7:12 am #

    Thank for this important reminder that rereading can offer a fresh perspective since we are likely we are at a different place in life each time we reread a book. I have read Doyle’s works on Sherlock Holmes over and over…and love the stories each time.

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    Jessica Nelson January 21, 2013 at 7:26 am #

    Interesting post! I might try this though I rarely reread anything. Hmmm. Thanks!

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    Robin Patchen January 21, 2013 at 7:33 am #

    I read a lot of great books in 2012, but my favorite was The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin. And I’d love to reread it, but I loaned it to a friend, and I haven’t seen it since. This is a great excuse to go find it on Kindle.

    I do love to reread books. Some I’m embarrassed to say how many times I’ve read some books. Opening a new book is like stepping into an unfamiliar world, but sometimes I long for the familiar, a cozy blanket, a warm fire, and some long-lost friends.

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    Carrie Miller January 21, 2013 at 8:18 am #

    A book I told myself I would read once a year is Corrie Ten Boom’s “A Hiding Place.” If anyone has not read it, they should do so as soon as possible. It’s an autobiography of a Christian women who hid Jews during World War II. She put aside her fear and her inadequecy, and allowed God to use her. AMAZING true story! Unfortunately I have only read it once. I liked the comment above by Robin. I guess I enjoy stepping into that unfamiliar world of a new book so much that I have forgotten about my cozy blanket.

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    Thomas Allbaugh January 21, 2013 at 8:59 am #

    Over Christmas, I reread _War in Heaven_ by Charles Williams (3rd or 4th time) and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s _The Great Gatsby_, and in both cases I found myself noticing techniques with voice, narrator, and scene development that I hadn’t seen or respected before. Fitzgerald’s book is especially brilliant. Thanks for this post.

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    Meghan Carver January 21, 2013 at 10:21 am #

    I constantly read books over and over — The Cat in the Hat, Pinkalicious, If You Give a Moose a Muffin. It’s in my job description. 🙂

    I seldom re-read an adult book because there are so many in my to-read pile. But there are many I’d like to — A Sound Among the Trees by Susan Meissner, Riven by Jerry Jenkins, Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen, almost any Shakespeare, Dogwood by Chris Fabry.

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    Jeanne T January 21, 2013 at 10:58 am #

    Loved this post. I appreciate the specific ideas you give to look for when re-reading. I read and re-read Rachel Hauck’s The Wedding Dress last year. I loved the story line and how she wove various aspects of the characters’ lives together so perfectly. I actually did use colored pencils when I re-read it to try and identify areas I’m struggling with in my story and mark them. I need to do this more often.

    As for other books I re-read, I’ve read the Anne of Green Gables series a few times, I’ve listened to Dee Henderson’s O’Malley’s series many times, and a couple of other books. Like someone mentioned, my TBR pile is veerrryyy high right now, so I’m doing much re-reading at the moment.

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    Patricia Lee January 21, 2013 at 12:13 pm #

    Loved the reminder.

    I discovered a year or so ago that when I reread the Bible using a different highlighter color, I knew what I was seeing for the first time and the “blend” of colors told me what truths God had impressed upon me before.

    I completed The Inheritance by Tamara Alexander yesterday and I am taking favorite scenes and writing them by hand in a notebook. I was told this technique at a Mount Hermon conference a few years ago. Something about putting the pen on paper and copying the scene down impresses the brain. I’m now on my sixth Tamera Alexander book, by the way. I can’t put her novels down. Hoping her impressions on my brain make a difference in my writing. I’m fascinated by the way she handles point of view.

    One of my favorite rereads is Jane Eyre. That is a book I can say I’ve read four times, and I never miss a new movie version of the story.

    Thanks for the post.

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    Sharyn Kopf January 21, 2013 at 5:11 pm #

    I’ve read Pride & Prejudice – which turns 200 this week! – several times but never as a writer. Maybe it’s time I do that. 🙂 I’d also like to re-read The Bachelor by P.G. Wodehouse and, for a more recent book, The Help.

    The downside, though, is that re-reading a favorite book can have the same negative effect as re-watching a favorite movie: You’re more apt to notice the mistakes, the holes in the plot, the little inconsistencies.

    On the other hand, you can learn how to be a better writer from all of that too. . . .

    The books I imagine you don’t have to re-read? The ones where ALL you noticed was the (bad) writing.

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    Pat Jaeger January 22, 2013 at 4:01 pm #

    Peace Like A River by Leif Enger is my next re-read. And for all the reasons you listed in your blog. Pulled into the story from the first paragraph, I became emotionally invested in this novel immediately.

    A Test of Faith by Karen Ball is another re-read. Her emotional honesty and making her story “real” (vs. sweet n’ easy to resolve in a short time–Faith took years to come home–I boo-hooed and scolded–see–emotionally invested!)To get us emotionally invested is to keep us coming back–my opinion, and my goal for my writing. Thanks for the reminder.

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    Stephen Myers January 23, 2013 at 1:09 pm #

    Great subject and post Steve. In one sentence I keep coming back to favorite books, movies, and television series to drink of what Jesus suggested to the woman at the well from “LIVING WATER.”

    I re-read several books each year. I used to reread every January Robert McGee’s SEARCH FOR SIGNIFICANCE and chart in the book how I grew from year to year with margin notes.

    Another that has seen a lot of wear is Gordon MacDonald’s REBUILDING YOUR BROKEN WORLD I first purchased in Midland Texas in 1988 when the TV station I worked for was taken in receivership from its major name owners. WHEN MEN THINK PRIVATE THOUGHTS is also another from MacDonald that I reread often.

    In Fiction I always reread or listen again in audiobook form to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s THE GREAT GATSBY. It was the book that flipped my switch as a teenager in the early 1970s, due in large part to the film as well. It and Earl Hamner’s THE WALTON’S may very well have been the seeds why I’m where I am today on the threshold of potential publication.

    In the past year I’ve read and re-read over a half dozen times, literally studying Margaret Daley’s A LOVE REKINDLED to learn how to write for Harlequin Love Inspired.

    Through Margaret’s letters was how I dropped my planned pitch novel for the 2012 DFW ACFW Conference (set in 1981) in trade for Margaret’s suggestion to consider writing for H/LI in the spring of last year. Instead, I took a screenplay I wrote targeted for Hallmark/Larry Levinson productions and enlarged it into what I pitched H/LI in an editor meeting. Had I gone with the 1981 novel (not in Contemporary fashion or preferences) I might not be where I am now.

    Rereading is great and something I did for years with film in documentaries (as was my profession 1999-2009) and advertising (producing some 30,000+ in my career 1977-2011).

    I agree with you about becoming ’emotionally invested.’ That is what keeps me coming back to those things that tickle, touch or plant new seeds in my heart or spirit to write. That familiar zone where I dare to dream. Films and TV Shows do that for me from selected episodes of THE WALTON’S to BAND OF BROTHERS and most often with FIELD OF DREAMS.

    The final 20 minutes of FILED continues to draw me closest to God when otherwise hurting or discouraged.

    Thank you for reminding me why I keep coming back: Its a return to the well for living water.

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    Rebecca LuEllaMiller January 24, 2013 at 2:07 pm #

    Re-read Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit this past Christmas season, and yes, I saw things I hadn’t noticed before, both in content and writing style. It really is interesting to compare the actual reading with the impression of the story going in.


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    Marcia Laycock January 24, 2013 at 6:31 pm #

    I’ve re-read My Utmost for His Highest a few times – my daughter gave it to me in journal form a number of years ago so I’m able to write my thoughts along the way. It’s been an encouragement and source of growth each time through.

    Novels I want to re-read: Peace Like a River (L Enger); River Rising (A Dickson); First and Vital Candle and The Temptations of Big Bear (Rudy Wiebe); Summer of Light (Dale Cramer; The Mitford books (Jan Karon).

    Thanks for this nudge. 🙂 Marcia

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