One of the paperback books on our bookshelf is well-read, which is a polite way to say the book is practically in tatters. We have read this particular book too many times to count, and seeing the worn cover almost made us want to stop writing so we could begin to read it again.
Despite overflowing library wish and wait lists, stacks of yet-to-be-started books passed along from friends, and an e-reader on memory overload, we still make time to pick up a book we know practically by heart. And we’re sure we’re not alone in this. We even discovered a term for multiple voluntary visits into the same experience: “volitional reconsumption.”
For us, the question is why? As writers, we want to know the answer because we’d like our books to be re-readable. To find out, we could have chosen to examine the research that studies volitional reconsumption. But who has time? We’re busy reading — or rather, re-reading. So we decided to ponder our personal reasons instead. Our goal is to improve our writing and we do that best by examining our preferences as readers. Here’s what we came up with.
1. We like visiting friends. When characters are well-written, we identify with them to the point that book people almost turn into real people. We love them from the moment we meet them, and they’re people we want to spend more time with. Each visit gives us more insight into how we can populate our own books with friends like these.
2. We like the familiar. We’re not averse to change. But sometimes going to a place we’ve been before is an easy way to enjoy a change without a lot of work. We know what to expect, and we know we’re going to like the experience. We want our books to have the same comfy-shoe feeling.
3. We re-discover what we’ve forgotten. When we return to what we’ve previously experienced, we’re reminded that our memory is not always accurate. Sure, we thought we were right about the action in a specific scene. Yet written in black and white is the proof that we were wrong. We find this reminder to be of value inside our book lives as well as outside.
4. We learn what’s timeless. Our favorite re-readable books remain set in a prior world, one so far removed from the technology we take for granted that the people in the stories we revisit would think we were from another planet. And yet we come back, time after time. What draws us in? The involuntary gasp at exactly the right moment, the trembling anticipation of expressing the heart’s desire, the quivering uncertainty of taking that first step in a new direction—in other words, enduring, universal human emotions, precisely what we want to capture in our own writing.
Do you re-read books? Has the practice helped your writing? Let us know in the comments.
Florida-based mother/daughter author duo HL Carpenter writes sweet, clean fiction that is suitable for everyone in your family. The Carpenters write from their studios in Carpenter Country, a magical place that, like their stories, is unreal but not untrue. When they’re not writing, the Carpenters enjoy exploring the Land of What-If and practicing the fine art of Curiosity. Visit HLCarpenter.com to enjoy gift reads and excerpts and to find out what’s happening in Carpenter Country.
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