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What Makes a Book Re-Readable?

I answered a survey from Amazon Crossing today (my German publisher). One of the questions they asked was, “As an author, which of these are most and least important to you”? About ten items followed—such things as “making a living,” “artistic/creative expression,” “connecting with readers,” “professional recognition,” etc.

It was pretty easy for me to choose my “most important. “ “Artistic/creative expression” and “making a living,” in that order. I want to write the books I love, and I don’t want to do anything else! But after I filled out the survey, I realized there was an item that wasn’t on there:

Writing re-readable books.

I’m a huge re-reader. If I love a book, I often go back and read it again. I want to savor it, to re-experience it. (Same thing with movies. I watch them twice.) I have a few authors whose books I’ve read and re-read over the years, whose books have really stood the test of time for me. Only a few. Jane Austen, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Georgette Heyer, Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Dick Francis, the wonderful and under-recognized Eva Ibbotson. I own those authors’ books in paperback, ebook, AND audiobook, just so I can read or listen to them any time I want.

I realized that, for me, the very best thing would be to write books that are re-readable in that way. My favorite emails from readers are the ones that say they’ve re-read the books, or that they’ve listened to the audio and it’s been so much fun to hear the books. And that made me think about a couple of things.

First, it’s why I don’t go faster. I’ve tried to push my process over the past year or so, when I found out that other authors were able to write eight books a year where I could only write four. But I found that my books stubbornly refused to get thought up faster. My one experience where I started writing without really knowing my characters, without getting fully into their heads, was JUST GOOD FRIENDS. I was so afraid I wouldn’t be able to write a second book, I jumped into it too fast. I finished it and was happy, but I sent it to my beta readers, and they said, “Ehhhh…” Kate’s character, it turned out, wasn’t developed enough, because I hadn’t thought enough about what it would FEEL like to have been in her situation, to have been stalked and terrorized. Once I did, I rewrote the book, and everybody liked it much better.

Same thing with writing. It takes me 4-6 weeks to write a 100k (350-page) book once I start, and while that sounds fast to non-writers, for many romance writers it would be a snail’s pace. But I find that I need a certain amount of time to write, edit, polish the prose; time to think and let the book “rest,” to come back the next day and edit some more, to have the characters’ reactions, on and off the page, unspool in my head, in order for the book to have some richness, for the other things to occur to me so it isn’t just a rush from A to Z and on to the next book.

I’m not saying that those who write faster aren’t writing rich books with great character development. I’m saying that for me, there’s a pace where that happens, and a pace where it doesn’t, and I need to be good with that.

So—what DOES make a book re-readable? I think it’s all that–the depth and “reality” of the characters, that they’re people you remember after you finish the book. There are some authors who write very well, and the experience is pleasant, the cost of the book well worth it, but I couldn’t tell you a single memorable character from any of their books, even if I’ve read 15 of them.

Then it’s the flow, the ease of it, and the writing quality, too. It’s some indefinable spark that makes that book come alive, where you’re escaping into that world and just—immersed. Whether it’s a thriller, a mystery, a historical novel, a romance, a literary novel, you’re THERE. As a writer, during that 4-6 weeks when I’m writing, I’m totally wrapped up in my book. I’m with the characters, believing that they’re real, living in their heads and hearts. My goal, my dream, would be that I could transmit some of that “life” to my readers as well; that they could believe, for just a little while, that they were there, too. That’s the sharing and connection that makes it all worthwhile for me.

What do YOU think? What qualities make a book re-readable? Who are your most re-readable authors? Whose paperback books are still on your shelf in this digital age? Whose books do you go back to for a comfort read? I’d love to know.

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Kim
Kim
5 years ago

I reread your books all the time. I’ve read the Kinkaid series twice each, and of the NZ books, I’ve read Just for Now at least 10 times (as well as listening to the audiobook), Just this Once and Just Not Mine are probably not far behind that. Just For Fun is probably my second favorite book (after Just for Now) but I’ve reread it only twice because it’s so heartbreaking and I really have to be in the mood for that. It has such a gut punch in it that I don’t think I could call it a comfort… Read more »

Rosalind James
Rosalind James
5 years ago
Reply to  Kim

I know what you mean about heartbreaking. “The Help” was probably the best audiobook I’ve ever listened to. But I only listened to it once, and I won’t re-read it in print form, either, because parts of it are so painful.

MJ Guidry
MJ Guidry
5 years ago

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve re-read and re-listened to your books. It’s like … visiting old friends. And I KNOW I’ve loved a book if I immediately re-read it after the first time. Your list is quite similar to mine. (I can, however, add Diana Gabaldon, but I know you didn’t care for “Outlander.” Reading and then going back and re-reading the whole series took me nearly 3 months!!) =) I’ll have to check out Eva Ibbotson. Never heard of her. Do you have a specific book to start with? I’m always looking for a new, good… Read more »

Rosalind James
Rosalind James
5 years ago
Reply to  MJ Guidry

Oh, Eva Ibbotson. “The Morning Gift.” “A Countess Below Stairs.” “A Song for Summer.” Historical fiction: often in Austria and/or England before WWII. But such a sense of place, such vibrant main and secondary characters. Humor and heartbreak and feel-good. There tend to be some stock characters; there tend to be some stock Big Misunderstanding climaxes, but it doesn’t matter. The books still work. Also fabulous in audio. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to “A Countess Below Stairs” in audio.

Robin Y.
Robin Y.
5 years ago

If I find a great story line that makes me feel like I can associate or feel the same joy, heartbreak etc. I re-read the book several times. There are some books that I have bought and struggled through it or just didn’t finish oit. I have several authors I love their books and characters. I love Rosalind James NZ series and her Kincaid series, however my favorite character of hers is Joe from Asking For Trouble. Another is Brenda Novak, loved her Whiskey Creek series for romance and her Bulletproof Trilogy and Stillwater Trilogy for suspense and romance combined.… Read more »

Rosalind James
Rosalind James
5 years ago
Reply to  Robin Y.

Yes, I think it’s being able to identify and getting sucked in. But even as an author, it’s hard to say how to “do” that. The only thing I know is that I have to feel it and get deeply into it myself to convey it.

Catherine
Catherine
5 years ago

I re-read your books all the time and a couple of other authors too. For me I love a good story with rich characters, both the main ones and the supporting ones. I love this added benefit of learning about something new, in your case, the country of New Zealand and the sport rugby. I love how you write your male characters, I feel you “get” how men think and act, unlike other authors who write them the same as female characters. I enjoy being able to “escape” into a good story, where I’m sad when it ends.

Rosalind James
Rosalind James
5 years ago
Reply to  Catherine

I love writing men–that they’re different from women. I’m lucky that my husband, a good male friend, and usually one of my sons beta-read my books for me (before publication). My husband reads as I go. They’re good at telling me if something doesn’t “work” for a man to do or say. But I know men pretty well, I think, from having sons, good male friends, and a husband who’s honest! (Yes, men look. Yes, they do. Doesn’t matter how happily married they are. They still look! And yes, about their first thought when they think , ‘I’d like to… Read more »

Jen
Jen
5 years ago

“Feel Good” books that provide an escape from reality are the books I re-read. Your books are great love stories that provide that good ending “feel good” experience. But also, like you’ve said your characters/stories are more realistic than other novels…so it’s easy to want to spend time in your books. It feels like spending time in a real place.

I love your books!! Keep writing…always! :-)

Rosalind James
Rosalind James
5 years ago
Reply to  Jen

Thank you! That’s what I tend to re-read, too. And why–to go to my “happy place.” It’s also why I write.

Kate Lattey
Kate Lattey
5 years ago

Great question and food for thought. I have a vast collection of pony books saved from my childhood, many of which I’ve read more times than I can count (it’s the genre I write so let’s call it research). I have other YA that I have read a few times – The Outsiders for example is a book I can’t pick up and read three pages of…if I’ve picked it up I’m not going anywhere until it’s done. Same goes for all of the Harry Potter books, and Robin Hobb’s wonderful Farseer books as well, although I’m not really a… Read more »

Rosalind James
Rosalind James
5 years ago
Reply to  Kate Lattey

I know what you mean about getting better. And I think you’ve nailed it on the memorable moments. That’s it. And ending on a strong note, too, where you’re really satisfied.

Thanks about Just Not Mine. That was a really satisfying book to write. I still remember exactly where I was when I wrote that billboard scene, laughing out loud. (In Leigh, on a house above the Harbour. Great writing spot.)

Lydia
Lydia
5 years ago

I have several books that I have read more than once. I love to read and sometimes i want to read something that I have already read. I read sometimes I read late at night so i read a books I have already read that way i know if I get tired I close the book and I know the ending of it.

Mary
Mary
5 years ago

The books I have re-read successfully over the years would be Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Georgette Heyer – any really but particularly These Old Shades, Devils Cub, Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, the Billabong series by Mary Grant Bruce ( past era) . Anita Shreve, particularly Last Time we Met., Daphne du Maurier Frenchmans Creek. I loved Mary Stewart when I was in my teens – now I find them too stylised and dated. Dorothy Dunnett and the Lymond series I can return to time and time again. Sometimes I read favourite chapters or moments. Some books, characters, prose, language… Read more »

Rosalind James
Rosalind James
5 years ago
Reply to  Mary

Wow, Mary, so much to think about. I agree about audio. If a book is good, audio just lets you savor it so much more (at least for me). On the other hand, if it has weaknesses, audio exposes them, because there’s no skimming. After I listened to JUST THIS ONCE, I went back and re-edited ALL my other books! I think there were eight at the time–big job! And thank you so very much. I’m so lucky to have found out that I could do this thing, and to be able to share my stories with other people. It… Read more »

Mary
Mary
5 years ago
Reply to  Rosalind James

And I should have said that great men, normal women, a taste of NZ and new elements each time also help!
My mind goes blank when I do a review even, so Your head must be teeming with ideas …

Abigail Opper
Abigail Opper
5 years ago

If I like a book, I will usually re-read it at least once because I truly devour them the first time. I am so eager to get to the end that I will stay up to finish it & in exhaustion will miss something. One of my favorite books is Heartless by Mary Balogh (out of print now). I must have read it at least 2 dozen times. I love when the characters over come the plot conflict and there is resolution, especially when the tension is realistic and the happily ever after is not overly saccarine. Knowing the ending… Read more »

Rosalind James
Rosalind James
5 years ago
Reply to  Abigail Opper

I know what you mean about all of that–reading too fast the first time, non-saccharine Happily Ever After (some of my favorite authors fall down here! Not Eva Ibbotson, though. Her final chapters are the BEST.) And the old friends!

Abigail Opper
Abigail Opper
5 years ago
Reply to  Rosalind James

I love this convo – I am going to look up some pf these authors for myself!

Lori T
Lori T
5 years ago

i love stories. My life has enough stress in it that I need stories that help me escape. For me, that means a satisfactory ending, and the ability to lose myself in a different time and/or place. That’s why I love your books. When I read them, I’m in NZ. The characters are people I would enjoy visiting. I read lots of science fiction, fantasy, and romance (all escapism) I reread, frequently, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, John Ringo’s Prince Roger and Troy Rising series, The Stand, some of John Scalzi’s work (he makes me laugh), several of Julie… Read more »

Rosalind James
Rosalind James
5 years ago
Reply to  Lori T

Yes, escape to a familiar, comfortable place–I think that’s a big one. Funny, The Help was probably the best audiobook I ever listened to, but I haven’t listened again, because the emotions in some of it were hard to take. It is too hard a place to go back to.

That’s cool about Michael Sullivan. I know Michael a bit. I don’t normally read fantasy, but I may have to give his a try!

Eva @ All Books Considered
Eva @ All Books Considered
5 years ago

I think it’s just a connection with the story or the characters — there are certain books I re-read every year because they are comforting to me or I am in a certain mood and want to read something I know I love. Your books definitely fall into this category for me — I love to re-read the Escape to NZ series before trial (a very stressful time!)

Rosalind James
Rosalind James
5 years ago

I’ve decided, thinking about it, that different types of books will have different factors that make them re-readable. For some types of books, it’s the excitement, the drama. For mine, it’s the feel-good. And thank you–that’s exactly what I wrote the books for. For women with busy, stressful lives, who needed a little break, a little downtime. Women like I always was.

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