Fiction Addiction

Book news and reviews with Bronwyn Sell and Christine Sheehy

Fiction Addiction: Re-reading benefits mental health

4 comments
Re-reading a book is good for you.
Photo / Thinkstock
Re-reading a book is good for you. Photo / Thinkstock

Book hoarders of the world can rest easy.

Last week, academics confirmed what book lovers like me instinctively knew: re-reading an old favourite is good for you.

A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, concludes that repeated "hedonic experiences" such as re-reading a novel or watching a film for a second time, offer many mental health benefits including heightened awareness and pleasure, and opportunities for growth and self-reflexivity.

"Even though people are already familiar with the stories or the places, re-consuming brings new or renewed appreciation of both the object of consumption and themselves," study authors Cristel Antonia Russell of American University and Sidney J. Levy of the University of Arizona said. "By doing it again, people get more out of it."

The study is based on in-depth interviews conducted both in the United States and here in New Zealand, where Russell taught at the University of Auckland.

The researchers focused on experiences people actively and consciously choose to repeat - rather than habitual or addictive behaviour - such as re-reading books, re-watching films and returning to the same holiday destination.

So this is how re-reading can benefit the reader. The first time around, a reader concentrates on the facts of the story, putting all the pieces of the puzzle in place. The second reading not only refreshes the memory of the first, but involves the discovery of new details, allows the reader to engage more fully with the emotions generated by the story and discover new levels of meaning.

In this way reading a book for the second time becomes a new and different experience. Readers can remember how they interpreted the story the first time and reflect on how they might view it differently this time and what that might mean about their personal growth.

It's true that a book can seem very different when read at a new age and stage of life. My teenage take on The Great Gatsby was very different to my re-reading as an adult, with a greater understanding of human fallibility and the complexities of adult relationships.

I've also chosen to re-read certain books because of what was happening in my life at the time, and my consequent need to feel inspired, uplifted, happy or sad, or just spend time with a character I know like an old friend.

These days I don't have a lot of time for re-reading, but I still keep the books I really love and to which I would like to return. Unfortunately their growing number is a source of irritation to my clutter-abhorring husband. With each of our seven house moves in the last three years he has shaken his head as he's hefted my book boxes. While those boxes have remained unpacked through these nomadic years, I still cling to the dream of one day having a library corner with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, a lamp, an old armchair and a cosy rug just made for re-reading.

And now I have the perfect justification. According to Russell and Levy "people should not hesitate to go back and re-read or re-view what they have already done. "

Sorry dear husband, those books are here to stay. It's a matter of mental health.


Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf05 at 19 Dec 2014 04:58:27 Processing Time: 423ms