The Joys of Rereading Books on Audio

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Laura Sackton

Senior Contributor

Laura Sackton is a queer book nerd and freelance writer, known on the internet for loving winter, despising summer, and going overboard with extravagant baking projects. In addition to her work at Book Riot, she reviews for BookPage and AudioFile, and writes a weekly newsletter, Books & Bakes, celebrating queer lit and tasty treats. You can catch her on Instagram shouting about the queer books she loves and sharing photos of the walks she takes in the hills of Western Mass (while listening to audiobooks, of course).

When it comes to rereading, every reader is different. For some, rereading is an essential part of loving and understanding the books they read; for others, it’s a chore. I fall somewhere in the middle. There are certain comfort books I read over and over, books that I can pick up when I’m stressed or upset and that always immediately make me feel better. There are other books that are just too good, too complex and layered, to read only once. Rereading has always been a small but important part of my reading life.

In the past few years, though, my relationship with rereading has shifted, thanks to my new favorite thing: rereading books on audio. Rereading a book is always a different experience from reading it the first time around. But listening to a book after having read it in print is something else entirely. There’s a wonderful depth to rereading on audio. It’s still rereading, but there’s also an element of newness to it. Good narrators bring so much vitality to books. Hearing characters voiced aloud adds layers to those characters I don’t always experience in print. Listening to an author read their own memoir can add an emotional depth that’s impossible replicate in print. Rereading on audio is the perfect blend of new and familiar. It’s a way to get a new perspective on beloved books.

The-Fifth-season-coverMy obsession with rereading books on audio started a long time ago, when I listened to Jim Dale narrate Harry Potter. Since then, listening to books has become my go-to way to reread them. I especially love listening to the existing books in a series I’ve already read in preparation for the next book in that series coming out. I reread The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin on audio just before The Stone Sky was released. Rereading them refreshed my memory on important plot points. But listening to them made them come alive in a new way. I fell harder for the characters; I became even more immersed in the world.

I did the same thing this fall when the last book in Rachel Caine’s The Great Library series came out. This is a fun, mostly lighthearted, alternate history/fantasy series that I have enjoyed immensely. But it’s not a series I love the way I love N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth. Normally, I wouldn’t bother rereading a series like this, even if I wanted to remind myself of the plot before finishing it. But rereading the books on audio was perfect—it was just different enough that I enjoyed every moment

It’s not just series that lend themselves so well to rereading on audio. My favorite read of 2018 was Circe by Madeline Miller. I loved it so much that as soon as I finished it I wanted to read it again. So I immediately put in a hold for the audiobook, and a few weeks later, I got to experience the whole incredible novel again, but on audio. The audio allowed me to linger in the prose in a way I hadn’t while reading it in print. It was the perfect way to reread a beloved book again so soon after finishing it for the first time.

Rereading on audio can also be a kind of permission. Early in 2019, I read In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan, a hilarious and smart YA fantasy novel that pokes fun at portal fantasies, interrogates patriarchy, and is full of beautiful queerness. Then, a few weeks ago, in the middle of a reading slump, I was desperate for something comforting and funny to read.

in other landsScrolling through audiobooks on Hoopla, I saw In Other Lands, and decided to reread it. Unlike Circe, In Other Lands wasn’t a book I felt compelled to reread as soon as I finished it. It was just a book I loved. I wouldn’t normally give myself permission to read a book like that twice in a matter of months. But listening to it felt like a different experience. My understanding of the characters shifted. The book was even funnier and smarter on audio. It was the perfect comfort read.

their eyes were watching god by zora neale hurston coverI’ve also used audiobooks as a way to revisit books I read a long time ago. I read Their Eyes Were Watching God in high school, and I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t love it at the time. I cannot figure out why. Last year, I listened to it on audio. I fell in love immediately. It’s not only one of the best books I’ve read in recent years, but one of the best audiobooks I’ve ever listened to. Choosing to reread it on audio allowed me to have a completely different experience of the novel. I went into it with fresh eyes, and it came to life. Now it’s a book I cherish.

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous cover imageRecently, when I finish a book I absolutely love in print, I’ve started adding the audiobook to my TBR, knowing I’m going to want to revisit it. This happened when I read On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous earlier this summer. I knew as soon as I finished it I wanted to experience it on audio. The same is true for Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. It makes the sadness of finishing a wonderful book sting a bit less knowing that there’s still a new way to experience the book waiting for me.

My love of rereading books on audio has opened up new worlds of reading. I reread more than I used to, but the experience of rereading is richer. I’m freer with my rereading now, and my whole reading life is better for it.