Why You Read a Book Twice
There’s nothing like cracking the spine of a new book, having no idea what happens next. But we all have favorite books, too. The ones that are falling apart on our shelves. The ones we refuse to give away or lend (no matter how many times we recommend them). And the ones we have to read again.
I have about fifty books that I’ve read at least twice – some several times. They’ve inspired me as a reader, helped me as a writer, and, like all great books, have enriched my life in many ways. It’s almost impossible to rate them, but the first five that come to mind are:
- A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
I feel fortunate to have seen the 1935 classic film based on this book when I was fifteen. By the time Sydney Carton did that “far, far better thing” than he’d ever done before, I was bawling and had to read the book.
At that age, Dickens’s prose should probably have been above me – especially sans English teacher. But because I was already familiar with the characters and the story, I was able to follow along. As a budding novelist, it was an indispensable course in plotting, character development and description.
The backdrop of this timeless love story is the height of the French Revolution, so there’s lots of action and intrigue – especially for a Victorian novel. Muddy carriage rides, nail-biting trials and wicked characters. That’s what I love about Dickens: he always makes sure you have a good time.
I visited the Charles Dickens Museum in London a few years ago and saw the desk where he actually wrote this book. If you’re a fan, it’s definitely worth a stop.
Unforgettable: Dickens switches from past to present tense in the last chapter, for Sydney’s heartbreaking ride through the streets of Paris.
- The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
Written almost fifty years ago, this book still scares the “dickens” out of me. But it’s also a beautifully written novel. I highlighted countless lines and filled up all the back pages with scribbles and notes.
By contrast, the dialogue is so natural, you’ll hear the characters’ voices as if they’re in the same room with you. The build-up to poor Regan’s possession is slow, but tense. Her mother’s desperation to help her daughter is palpable. Throw in two exorcists with more than a few tricks up their (robe) sleeves – and a very convincing devil – and you can almost hear “Tubular Bells” in the background.
Unforgettable: How Blatty used blocks of italics within scenes to indicate a conversation that’s already taken place or to add research about exorcism and possession. Really effective, like flashbacks within scenes.
- The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
There’s a reason this book sold a kabillion copies and inspired a hit movie. It’s just a great book. Sometimes when a current title is so popular, it risks feeling overexposed and you can forget what a standout it is.
But with one of the best unreliable narrators ever, numerous suspects in a grisly murder and characters with dark secrets, it’s definitely worth revisiting Rachel and the gang. It’ll make you remember why you couldn’t put this book down the first time around.
Unforgettable: Hawkins’s ability to switch between the voices of her characters. Three women, around the same age, who all seem and sound so different? That takes skill.
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Murder, money, a deadly love triangle. What’s not to love? Nick Carraway is our narrator in this beautiful Jazz Age classic. Through him we’re introduced to some of the most enduring characters in American literature. We also get a glimpse into a fascinating era of culture and style.
I still have my high school copy of this book, complete with sophomoric signature inside the front cover. Years later, on a stop in Minneapolis-Saint Paul, we drove past the big brick house where Fitzgerald grew up, and the bar down the street where he apparently started drinking.
The author died at 44, thinking he was a failure. If only he knew what a legend he would become, maybe he wouldn’t have had to drink quite as much.
Unforgettable: There are countless lines that I love, but this one always stuck with me: Nick commenting that Tom Buchanan had been so successful in college, the rest of his life “savors of anti-climax.”
- Misery by Stephen King
It seems like this book could be a cri-de-coeur from King because it’s about a novelist whose books are so popular, when he decides to kill off his main character to move on, one rabid fan has other ideas.
What really amazes me about this book is how King can take two characters and basically one location and squeeze more thrills out of it than many epics. How it’s possible to create that much drama with so few moving pieces is inspiring. It takes incredible imagination, using every available threat, from the domestic to the sadistic, which makes it a clinic in suspense.
Unforgettable: “Hobbling.” Enough said.
Hope this list helps you remember your own favourite books. Because whether they’re hot off the presses or from years ago, there’s nothing like a book that’s worth reading twice.
S.L. McInnis’s suspense debut, Framed, is being released by Grand Central Publishing in New York and Headline Books in London (Hachette Book Group, February 2020). She has a degree in broadcasting and has worked in public television and radio. When she’s not writing, reading (or re-reading), she’s binge-watching British crime dramas. She lives in Toronto with her husband, a chef. You can follow her on Twitter @SLMcInnis.