Re-reading puts a smile on the nation's face, says new survey by The Reading Agency

23 April 2021

* Over 1 in 3 (35%) of people find happiness in re-reading books

* 53% of people have re-read at least one book in the last 12 months

* Young people (18-24) more likely to re-read, and to feel happy re-reading

* Crime, sci-fi and memoirs among the most re-read genres

* People revisit books for comfort, relaxation, escapism, (re)discovery, familiarity

* Survey results by The Reading Agency to mark World Book Night, in partnership with Specsavers

The Reading Agency, in partnership with Specsavers, has revealed today that re-reading helps make people smile, with more than 1 in 3 readers (35%) finding happiness in re-reading books (including audiobooks), rising to 41% among young people (18-24).

Announced on World Book Night, the annual celebration of reading, the survey shows that we are a nation of re-readers, with more than half of people surveyed (53%) saying they have re-read at least one book over the past 12 months (Populus Omnibus survey, books and audiobooks, 16-18 April 2021, sample 1,638).

Marking its 10th anniversary in 2021, the theme of this year’s World Book Night is “Books To Make You Smile”, highlighting the proven power of reading and the benefits it brings to well-being, especially in light of the impact of Covid-19 on mental health. As such, The Reading Agency and Specsavers have compiled a new anthology “Stories to Make You Smile”, featuring contributions from some of the UK’s best-loved comedians and authors.

This is timely when considering the reasons those surveyed gave for re-reading books, including wanting to feel happy, comforted or relaxed; escaping reality; discovering aspects they hadn’t noticed before; and re-reading feeling familiar. This supports recent studies which have found people find enjoyment in the familiar and predictable, particularly during periods of constant change.

The study found younger people are more likely to re-read a book, as 61% of 18-24-year-olds have re-read a book in the last 12 months, and 75% re-read books generally, while 46% of readers aged 65 and above have re-read a book in the past year.

Re-reading can help form new perspectives and better self-understanding – much like talking to new people – so it is unsurprising that, in the past year, young readers (18-24) and readers aged over 65, groups who became more socially isolated, were most likely to re-read to discover different aspects they hadn’t noticed before (42% and 46% respectively). Readers aged between 25-34 and 35-44 were more likely to re-read to feel relaxed (47% and 46% respectively).

Responses from people surveyed included:

“If I love a story I want to revisit it, like visiting a friend more than once.”

“I like to rediscover the emotions I felt on first reading the book, especially during 2020, familiar ‘feel good’ books.”

“I haven’t re-read many but the ones I did were just so good I wanted to experience them again.”

The most popular genre people revisit is crime (39%), proving a favourite among over 65s (52%), and peaking in popularity in Scotland and Yorkshire & Humberside (47% and 48% respectively). Among the young (18-24-year-olds), sci-fi and fantasy are the top re-read genres (41%), followed by young adult fiction (37%). Sci-fi is also the second most re-read genre for men (38%), while for women it’s romance (34%). Re-reading non-fiction is also very popular, with 30% respondents enjoying re-reading memoirs and biographies and 23% political or historical non-fiction.

Karen Napier, CEO of The Reading Agency, said: “We’re delighted to see that so many people have taken comfort and joy in re-reading books in the last year – and it makes perfect sense that many would return to their old favourites in such uncertain times. The proven power of reading is something we strongly believe in at The Reading Agency, and these statistics help shine a light on just how many people can benefit from it. We’re looking forward to a great evening of celebrations, and can’t wait to help get the nation smiling, with help from our fantastic partner Specsavers, our brilliant ambassador Sandi Toksvig, and all the wonderfully supportive publishers and authors who are helping us celebrate this 10th anniversary!”

Celebrations for World Book Night’s 10th anniversary include two virtual events in partnership with The British Library: a livestreamed event by World Book Night Ambassador Sandi Toksvig featuring best-selling authors David Nicholls and Bolu Babalola, and World Book Night founder and Canongate CEO Jamie Byng (8-9pm), and a virtual event with Nobel Prize-winner Kazuo Ishiguro in conversation with Kate Mosse (6-7pm). In addition, The Reading Agency is inviting the whole nation to take part in the #ReadingHour (7-8pm), where everyone is encouraged to read a good book, alone or with others, in any format they like.

Sandi Toksvig, World Book Night 2021 Ambassador, said: “I’m not surprised at all that people have been finding comfort and happiness in re-reading books over the past year. If a book makes you smile when you read it the first time, why not repeat the experience over and over again? The Reading Agency’s World Book Night, in partnership with Specsavers, is celebrating its 10th anniversary so I hope everyone will join us for an evening of seriously entertaining free events and the Reading Hour, celebrating the joy of reading (and re-reading) books.”

The survey also showed that 45-54-year-olds are more likely to have started wearing glasses to help with reading in the past 12 months (15%, in comparison to 8% for general respondents and 4% of 65+ year olds). 50% of the people surveyed said they were already wearing glasses.

Dame Mary Perkins, Co-founder of Specsavers, said: “Reading is one of my great passions and I return to my favourite books time and time again – these results demonstrate I’m not alone. Of course this year, more than ever, being able to escape with a good book has been a lifeline and having something to smile about, particularly during these challenging times, is essential. Books give you the chance to unleash your imagination and be transported to another world and having good vision and hearing is so important for this – whether you are reading the words on a page or sharing a story with a loved one. At Specsavers we’re delighted to be working with The Reading Agency to support World Book Night, and with our ongoing commitment to eye health, helping people enjoy their love of reading to the fullest.”

On World Book Night, The Reading Agency will be giving away 100,000 books in various formats – twice as many as last year. The Reading Agency’s mission is to spread the joy of reading to those who don’t regularly read for pleasure or have access to books, by distributing books to organisations such as prisons, hospitals, food banks, youth centres, care homes and mental health groups. Authors on the World Book Night booklist 2021 include Pam Ayres, Stephen King, Jack Monroe, Nina Stibbe, Jane Fallon, gal-dem, Kit de Waal, and many more. In addition to the booklist, The Reading Agency and Canongate will be distributing 10,000 copies of The Midnight Library, by international best-selling author and mental health advocate Matt Haig, to 10 library authorities.

On top of print books, The Reading Agency is giving away 6,000 free audiobooks, as part of their efforts to make reading available to the widest possible audience. This year’s audiobooks include Emma by Jane Austen, narrated by Tanya Reynolds, BBC Audio’s Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare, narrated by David Tennant and Samantha Spiro and Shahroo Izadi’s The Kindness Method. Anyone can apply online to receive an exclusive download code for an audiobook of their choice.

Stories to Make You Smile (published by Simon & Schuster) has been edited by writer, former Costa Book Award judge and Quick Reads editor Fanny Blake, and featuring contributions from high-profile comedians and authors Richard Madeley, Jenny Éclair, Helen Lederer, Mark Watson, Eva Verde, Vaseem Khan and more. The book is available in various formats, including a free e-book available to download from today, and an audiobook narrated by Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey, Notting Hill), Adjoa Andoh (Bridgerton, Doctor Who), Samantha Bond (Downton Abbey, James Bond) and Madhav Sharma (Eastenders, Coronation Street), also free to download and available from World Book Night.

For World Book Night, The Reading Agency is planning a Bookshop.org partnership, with authors sharing their reading recommendations for World Book Night (and beyond) on the online platform supporting independent bookshops. Waterstones will also be partnering up with The Reading Agency, supporting the #ReadingHour on social media and offering prize giveaways.

Follow the latest developments on social media:

@WorldBookNight / @ReadingAgency / @Specsavers

#WorldBookNight / #ReadingHour / #BooksToMakeYouSmile

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