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Old stories are like old friends . . . You have to visit them from time to time. -Tyrion Lannister

Re-blogged from my mid-month post over at the Supernatural Underground.

Life is short; the TBR list long. So why am I encouraging you to reread your favorite novels?

Tyrion Lannister, in  A Storm of Swords, says “Old stories are like old friends . . . You have to visit them from time to time,” and social psychologists are starting to agree.

Rereading books allows us to immerse in a familiar story world, which benefits our emotional, physical and mental health more than reading new material, or not reading at all. Here’s why:

1) Rereading stories we love is guaranteed entertainment. We escape, engaging in the story and letting go of our ‘real life’ worries and concerns. It’s a holiday anyone can afford, a real stress buster, and we all know, stress is at the root of most physical complaints.

2) Rereading favorite books (or watching favorite films and TV shows) gives us comfort. They nourish us on a deep level by taking us to a remembered happiness. Once there, we can experience  those pleasures all over again, reinforcing the ‘happy brain messengers’ in our biochemistry so vital to our emotional, and subsequently physical, well being.

3) Beloved old books are like our True North. They helps us make sense of ourselves by contrasting how we are now to how we were when we first visited the pages. They can help us put change into perspective and understand personal growth and evolution.

4) Familiar stories aren’t like old friends. They are old friends. We make connections to fictional characters in the same ways to do ‘real’ people. Psychologists call it parasocial interactions, describing them as one-sided, but the fact is, these relationships offer us all the mental and emotional benefits of camaraderie, community and a sense of belonging, essential states for our health and well being.

5) Rereading favorite books can boost our energy levels, fueling the tanks as much, or more, than a good night’s sleep, or a healthy meal. Jaye Derrick, PhD, explains it like this:

People have a limited pool of mental resources such as drive, willpower and self control. The more we work at a task, the more we deplete our stores, until we refuel with rest and nutrition. But revisiting a much loved story worlds can fill our tanks, and fast.

What’s in play is the idea of social surrogacy where fictional characters become valuable friends. We form relationships to them that have a restorative effect, sometimes more so than our ‘real life’ companions who may make their own demands on us, or respond, at times, in unreliable and/or disturbing, draining, ways.

The operant word in this is “favorite”. Rereading or re-watching any old story won’t have the same benefits, nor will reading the next installment of a series for the first time. It is the familiar reconnection with what happens that really switches on our bio-chemistry, helping to balance our health, relax the nervous systems and contribute to a state of happiness and well being.

Of course, as authors, we return to our own story worlds repeatedly, often with a ticking clock. There are dozens of rereads while writing a manuscript, then multiple edits once it’s complete. Then we read the 4th, 3rd, 2nd and final proof pages and finally, re reread previous books in a series before writing the next, and the next and the next.

Aside from my own works and collaborations, I  have a few old favorites that have lit me up for decades – Lord of the Rings, Dragon Riders of Pern, Dead to the World, The Silver Metal Lover . . . Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Interview with a Vampire, The Rosie Project . . .Okay. It’s a long list!

How about you? I’d love to hear the story worlds you return to and why. Please feel free to comment, sharing with us all your best friends!