11 Books You'll Only Appreciate Fully After You Re-Read Them

by Charlotte Ahlin

You know the feeling: You come home from the bookstore with a big bag of new releases. You settle down with a mug of tea, ready to cross some titles off of your TBR list and catch up on all the latest fiction... and then somehow you find yourself rereading The Golden Compass for the 17th time instead. Some people (like me) are chronic re-readers, reading our favorite novels until they literally come apart in our hands. But whether you're a dedicated re-reader or not, here are a few books you'll only appreciate if you read them more than once.

Now, I'm not saying that you can't appreciate these books at all on the first time around — you can. But it takes at least two (or five) reads to fully understand their brilliance. These are books that you get something new out of every time. You pick up on subtleties that you missed, or you identify with a completely different character. Maybe you were a kid the first time you read them, or a high schooler going through your "I hate the world" phase. Either way, pick up these books a second time (or a first time!) and see what you're missing:


'1984' by George Orwell

On the one hand, everyone should read this again because it's distressingly relevant to our current political climate. But you should also read it again so that you can use the word "Orwellian" correctly: It's a subtle distinction, but Orwell isn't just writing about a scary government, he's writing about a government that rewrites reality and changes the meaning of language to gain total control (sound familiar?).

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'His Dark Materials' by Philip Pullman

His Dark Materials is one of those series that changes dramatically when you read it as an adult. As a kid, it's a brilliant adventure about alternate worlds and talking polar bears. As an adult, it's a fascinating meditation on the nature of humanity and sin. Even reading it twice as an adult, you're sure to find hidden depths behind all the fantasy fun.

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'To Kill a Mockingbird' by Harper Lee

I think all the people who were shocked by the version of Atticus in Go Set a Watchman should probably re-read To Kill a Mockingbird. On the second read, you start to notice all the flaws and hypocrisies present in even the "good" people of Macomb. Lee's novel still holds up as a plea for justice, but it's more complex than a straightforward white savior narrative.

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'The Little Prince' by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

This is another one that you probably read first as a kid, or a high school student in French class. And boy is it... not really a kids' story when you read it again? It's a "kids'" story about the soul-crushing reality that adults create for themselves, at any rate. And yeah... that ending takes a couple of reads before it fully sinks it (and then you start weeping uncontrollably on the bus).

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'The Joy Luck Club' by Amy Tan

A lot of us read The Joy Luck Club in high school, and we identified 100 percent with the daughters. But re-read it as a non-teenager, and suddenly the mothers are real, complex human beings too. You can't fully appreciate Amy Tan's masterpiece about inter-generational relationships until you're old enough to understand that your parents are people, too.

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'Slaughterhouse Five' by Kurt Vonnegut

Vonnegut always deserves a second or third read. His books go so quickly—you start off with a war novel, and end with something that might be sci-fi... or it might defy genre altogether. Come back to Slaughterhouse Five a few years later, and it's somehow become an entirely different novel, with an entirely different set of revelations about being alive.

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'Persepolis' by Marjane Satrapi

Persepolis looks cute and cartoony, but it just has so much going on underneath those adorable drawings of young Marjane talking to God. The first time you read it, you're probably learning a lot about the history of Iran. The second time, you're reading deeper into the experiences of Marjane and her family, and grasping a whole lot more of the historical significance of a childhood during revolution.

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'One Hundred Years of Solitude' by Gabriel García Márquez

This is another one where there's simply too much going on to take it all in on the first read. One Hundred Years of Solitude spans generations, following dozens of characters as they live, die, and fall in and out of love. It's pretty much a sprawling tragicomedy about the human condition, so you're going to want to return to Macondo more than once.

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'The God of Small Things' by Arundhati Roy

The God of Small Things is deceptively simple. Roy plays with language from a child's perspective, but the novel is far from childish. Read it once, just to experience the inventive language and follow the plot, and then read it again and pick up on all the nuance and quiet tragedy that you missed the first time.

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'Ulysses' by James Joyce

Look, no one understands Ulysses the first time. It's OK. Don't get discouraged if you muddled through it once and missed most of "plot"—try it again. You might be surprised at how much more you can understand Joyce's stream of consciousness once you're used to it.

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'Harry Potter' by J.K. Rowling

I think most Harry Potter fans will agree that Harry Potter is so much more than a children's adventure story. It's the classical heroes journey, it's a political allegory, and it's just plain delightful to read again and again.

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