July 17, 2012

Second Time isn’t Always a Charm: Re-Reading Expectations

Sorry creepy dude, that second date will be a total fail.

I’m not a fan of re-reading books. There are a few that I often revisit, but mostly because I like a character in particular and I skip to his/her parts. But I almost never pick a book for the second time and read it all the way through the end. However, lately I’ve been re-reading more and more books that I love and always recommend. The results have been mixed. 

Weeks ago I decided to re-read two of my all-time favorite books:  Blue-Eyed Devil  and  Smooth Talking Stranger, both by Lisa Kleypas. I love these books so much I recommend them to everyone, even if they don’t like romance. And if I had a Romance Conversion Kit (something I don’t need it because all my friends go to sleep just by hearing the word “book”) they would be in it. But when I read them for the second time I realized that although they remain good, the original awesomeness wasn’t there. So I started thinking about reading, and how time, reviews and re-readings can change that experience and make you see flaws in something you originally thought to be near perfect.

Sweaty Speedo men are sweaty!
Few things compare to reading a great book for the first time, when you discover a new favorite. These are books that make you fall in love with a genre, an author, or maybe just with that particular story. But what happens when you read them for the second time and they aren’t as good as you remember? This is exactly what happened to me when I re-read Kleypas’ books. They didn’t live to the expectations my memories had created. I say memories because the books are obviously the same, so I wonder if I am different. Sure, there are books that I’ve outgrown—stories that I love but don’t feel like reading again because they are no longer “my thing”. But then there are stories that should still appeal to me because they are exactly what I look for in a book. How do I know this? Because those books set the standards I use to measure book nowadays. And yet the second time around my impression of them wasn’t as good.

What’s the problem?

I think part of it is that first times are first times, and second times are second times. You can’t compare them because they are filled with differences: the situations, reactions and expectations are different. The book may be the same, but the reader sure isn’t. There’s also the engrossment factor—I use it to measure how likely I am to notice mistakes and flaws. If a book is riveting, chances are, I’m not going to notice its faults, and if I do notice, I won’t care. But during the re-reading those weaknesses will probably be more obvious. Reviews also play a role here, because they help me notice details I may have missed. It’s one of the reasons I love reading reviews of books I have already read.

On the other hand, re-reading a book can help you experience the story in a different and better way. There are books filled with details that can be hard to notice the first time, especially if I was busy inhaling the book to pay closer attention. This is a common occurrence with series I love.

Finally, there are those books I love but don’t want to ever read again. They tend to be the emotionally draining ones. Stories that kept me glued to the pages but once they were done, I hid them under the bed to never see them again. Those were remarkable one-night stands, but won’t ever get a second date with this reader.

When it comes to books, first impressions count, and most of the time they are all we get. Although the second time may not always be a charm, my favorite books will remain special, even if the reader I’ve become is no longer a fan. 

I would love to hear your thoughts. Have you ever been so engaged by a story that you missed its flaws and it took a review or a second reading for you to notice them? Did those flaws changed your perception of the book? Or did you love them regardless, maybe even more? Do you like re-reading books? 


  1. Since I read most of Julie Garwood's novels in my teens, I had a horrible experience last year when I re-read one and hated it. The heroine came off as incredibly annoying and immature, and I kept thinking how could I love it so much back then.

    I made a decision that the books I read in my teens I won't re-read now. I want to keep the good memories :D.

    1. This is what I meant when I said outgrowing books, the same happened to me with old-school romances that I loved when I first read them but I can't stand now.

      I think I'm going to do the same and not re-read books I read in my teens! ;-)

  2. GREAT topic! There is a big difference between FAVORITE BOOKS and FAVORITE RE-READS. Two very different things. Some books make a huge initial impact--especially the ones that are totally unexpected. But they don't necessarily have re-read potential. And some books that you really love actually get better with each re-read. I re-read Julie Garwood, Amanda Quick and Stephanie Lauren's historicals all the time and love them more and more with each re-read. They are comfort reads and high on the romance charts. And have memorable larger than life characters. I adored Gail Carriger's book SOULLESS when I first read it....it's a quirky mix of humor, paranormal/steampunk stuff and historical parody. But when I re-read it, it just wasn't the same. Part of the experience of that book was reading something unexpected, fresh and new for the first time. The second time wasn't quite as wonderful. (Still love it and recommend it, of course!)

    1. Thank you, Penny!

      I think there are books that are meant to be read just once. As you said, if their freshness and uniqueness is what makes them special, the second time you lose those elements. And then there are the unbearably angsty books that are good once, but I don’t ever want to experience the pain again!

      Then there are books so nuanced that get better and better the more you read them and discover new things about them. This is something I often see when I re-read series and realize that there are easter eggs and winks hidden everywhere. You get to see favorite characters when they first appeared, and situations that at first seemed unimportant but you then realize that they we setting up the books to come.

  3. There is a big difference between FAVORITE BOOKS and FAVORITE RE-READS (this times 1000)

    Rereads have to be comfort reads. They have to be the ones that give me the warm fuzzies. It has to be books where I don't care if I notice flaws or inconsistencies. I find myself rereading historicals and m/m a lot. Revealed by Kate Noble. Slightly Dangerous by Mary Balogh. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Tigers and Devils by Sean Kennedy. Abigail Roux and KA Mitchell. I don't know what that is. Well - I reread m/m because they give me all that delicious angst that I like to roll around in.

    I reread because there are certain scenes or quotes that I can't wait to get to again. If the book is complicated, or just too dark...I most likely won't reread it often - however, it could be a favorite of mine. (i.e Megan Hart).

    Done rambling now.

    1. I think the distinction between favorite books and favorite books to re-read, is key. Favorite re-reads are all favorite books. They may not be awesome, but they are especial. However, not every favorite book is a favorite re-read. Broken is a great example of a wonderful book I never want to read again!

      I love what you and Penny said about re-reads being comfort books, because that’s exactly it! I re-read books not only because I like them, but because they make me feel good.

  4. So far the few books I've re-read I've still loved. There is one book (my fave romance, Only Hers by Francis Ray), that I read at least once a year and it never gets old. I fall in love with the characters all over again and get swept up in the setting.

    Re-Reading Harry Potter is also full of awesomeness for me. And I've read Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux a few times and love it the same. I guess because I already know what to expect so it's just like catching up with old friends.

    I don't think myself so lucky though that I won't eventually run into a re-read that disappoints me. But so far, as far as I can remember, I've been doing alright with them.

    Awesome discussion post Brie!

    1. *add Only Hers to TBR pile*

      Harry Potter is one of the series I love re-reading. Once you go back, you realize how many details and clues were there since book 1! I loved that.

      A Knight in Shining Armor is a book I'd never reread because of the ending! LOL But I think the second time around can't be that heartbreaking ;-)

  5. Great post! For me, reading a book once is all it takes. I'm the kind of person that really doesn't deal well with repetitiveness. I've watched movies or TV shows where a character will say they have a favorite book and will read it every year, like an anniversary date.
    I have read a couple of books more than once, but those are rare occurrences. I have found a couple of books in the used book store that I remember reading as a kid and picked them up. I still liked the book, but they were brand new to me as an adult. The kid in me liked them for whatever reason, but the adult in me liked them for a whole new one. (I know, I sound like a commercial, hehe!)
    My tastes in books change and grow, so I suppose that is another reason I don't like to re-read books. But once in awhile I get all nostalgic and pick up a book from my youth.

    1. I'm mostly like you except that there's one book I do read at leas once a year -- Timeline by Michael Crichton. I have huge crush on one of the characters and that's enough to make me read it over and over!

      There are books from when I was a kid that I read just for nostalgia. It's great revisiting them once in a while, but overall I don't like re-reading books from my youth.

      Thanks for commenting! Come back soon ;-)

  6. I am soooooo not a re-reader. I have re-read less than a handful of books (3 to be precise). There are so many other books out there that I want to read (and more and more being released) so to take time to re-read a book doesn't suite me. I'm the same way with movies - I can't rewatch a movie over and over and over (like my hubs can). I have to forget plot points in order to be able to watch a movie again or it has to be an absolute favorite movie that I love (like The Notebook or Derailed - the one with Jennifer Aniston and Clive Owen).

    1. I can watch the same movie twice, but it has to be one I like. Unless it's The NeverEnding Story, I've seen that movie so many times I can recite the dialogue and just thinking about it makes me hum the music LOL!


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