I was never much of a re-reader.
Somehow I always tend to think along the lines of “can I really justify reading that book again, when I’ve read so few in total over my lifetime?” or “how can I know which books are worth returning to?”. It all comes down to the fact that reading a book again means prioritising it over a new book, over an entirely new experience and stories, characters, places, thoughts, ideas. Of course there’s no saying a rereading might not give those experiences – giving a new layer to an experience of a book you already have a basic familiarity with, on which to build a deeper knowledge. There’s no guarantee for this experience though, is it? Although on the other hand, there’s no guarantee reading a book for the first time will be a good experience, even if it’s a new one. Or a book you’ve never read might be so unoriginal as to feel familiar, boringly so.
But for me, I think more than the priority thing it’s been that feeling of inadequacy I’ve always felt as a reader, as I identify myself as a reader – an avid reader, a reader persona if you will. For most of my life I have seen reading and books as a big part of me – of my character, my interests, my being – especially so the last few years. It’s become a vital part to my existence, no matter how overdramatic that sounds, it’s true. Even so I have always felt that I haven’t read enough, that I don’t read enough, that I need to read more and to read more widely. Think Rory Gilmore (Gilmore Girls) when she and Lorelai is standing in front of Harvard’s library in the second season, being struck by how few books in the world she’s read – “I sleep too much”. That feeling of inadequacy is part of what drives me in my reading, and I don’t mind it – in fact I think it’s a good thing, especially in terms of trying out new things. In terms of making rereading a part of my general reading, it’s probably the main reason why I haven’t historically – and why I still don’t – reread much.
Having said all this – the principals/reasons as to why I don’t do it very often – it’s not like I never revisit books I’ve read. Two of my favourite books as a child was The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank Baum, and The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. I’ve read both of them more times than I can remember, and the readings have been spread over my lifetime – I’ve read both of them within the last three years or so. They are still two of my favourite books and one of the reasons I call them that is because I have reread them so many times, because they have stood up to rereading – they have lost none of the charm that they had for me as a child, to my current self. Funnily enough, they actually represent two different reasons I can see why rereading is worthwhile – or why people eread in the first place, from my point of view.
I love The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – it’s a wonderful children’s classic filled with magic, whimsical characters, colorful places and communities, wonder; I mean, it’s probably well known at this point. I’ve read some of the other books in the series as well but it’s been so long I can’t remember exactly which of them I have read, except for the first book in the series. I reread The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to return home, to feel good, to experience that warm wave of nostalgia and welcome, of that magic and that comfort that comes from certain books that have meant something to us, that have brought certain feelings and experiences to us. The Wonderful Wizard is for me what Harry Potter is to millions of readers out there – a place like home, a place to return to, a place that will always be there welcoming them with open arms. It’s possible I have noticed new things, little details in the writing, with new readings of the book but for the most part I have read it for fun.
The Little Prince however, is an example of what I would call a book you reread to gain something new out of, every time. A book that is so complex that one reading has only showed you a part of the myriad of details, layers, etc. to it. A book that is philosophical, that will bring new thoughts to you depending on your life experiences, your knowledge, your maturity, or having been experiences to new ideas and perspectives. It’s not always the books that are written in the most complex of ways but sometimes the more ambigious books that fit into this category of re-read contenders. For me The Little Prince is a book that have given me something new with each reading. First my dad read it out loud to me, then I read it on my own as the first chapter book I ever conqured. Then I have returned to it, with a few years gap each time, with different levels of maturity indeed but also all of the other things I mentioned above. I have even read it in two different languages; first Swedish, then English. I have read the first few pages of it in its original French, most recently.
I recently reread Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner for the #hundredacrereadalong hosted by Words of a Reader on booktube – celebrating 90 years of Pooh Bear. It was the first time I revisited these two books and I can safely say they are two of my favourite books, The House of Pooh Corner especially. It was wonderful to return to the Hundred Acre Woods, spending time with characters I know and love. I rediscovered how well A. A. Milne captures the mind, ways and actions of children in his animal characters; how well captured the littlest things of a child’s behaviours and feelings really are within those two books. On the whole though I would say rereading these books would best be categorized as fitting into the first category – additions to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, books I revisit to go back home.
I think there’s a lot of value to rereading, more than I personally have given it credit and I know already of many books I want to revisit when time allows. I know this has been a long one, and I haven’t even said all of the things I have bubbling inside me on the topic of rereading. But I’ll finish off with this; are you a big rereader? Do you reread occasionally? Have you done so your whole life or is it something that you’ve incorporated more recently? And what are your reasons for rereading?
Until next time, happy reading!