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I have to confess something. Most of the books I’ve read so far this year have been reread. After walking through Northanger Abbey, I revisited Sense and Sensibility, followed by Pride and Prejudice. I’m clearly in the middle of another Austen period, but that doesn’t mean other books are safe. I’m in the middle of The Left Hand of Darkness and Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, both of which I’ve read before.
My love for re-reading is not surprising. My fellow campaigners have written extensively on this subject. There are recommendations for books and series that you can reread. Some have written about the struggle to reread books in the face of your TBR pile staring accusingly at you (as TBR piles usually do). Others got carried away with passion and talked about the joys of rereading.
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What am I doing here then? There’s already a reason to reread – it’s an established, respectable art form now. Not only did we tell you what to read and how, we even told you how to take the time to read it. What is left?
Well, of course. As Madeline Miller writes in her Song of Achilles (can you imagine how many times I’ve read it?), This and that and that. Just as there are readers who are new to the activity, so are there readers who are have been doing for years. Same goes for re-reading, and I fall into the latter category. I discovered early on how fun it is to reread an old favorite.
At first, re-reading was just a guaranteed way to enjoy a book. It’s almost like ordering the same dish at a familiar restaurant – there’s less risk of disappointment, and while less exciting, it’s comforting to know that you are enjoying what you have got. Not all books are good on a second round, but the ones that are stick with you.
Rereading is very different from reviewing a book initially. For starters, you know what will happen in the end. If you’re someone who gets your thrill from the secrets of the unknown, this is how re-reading goes by definition. That’s not to say that there aren’t any other secrets. For example, by reading again, you can open your eyes to premonitions. There is more to a book than just a plot. There is the structure of the narrative, jumping back and forth in time, language, metaphor, dialogue. All of these people are in the foreground when you re-read, and each new observation offers a new source of joy.
My favorite part about re-reading is the way my reaction to the story and its characters changes every time. When I first read Pride and Prejudice when I was 13, I didn’t register much other than romance and that Elizabeth wasn’t a fan of Darcy at first. At 20, I realized that the love story between the two, while admirable, was far from the only reason the book had survived so long: I took note of Jane and Elizabeth’s friendship as Elizabeth and Darcy grow before they can be good for each other, makes the sharp character that Austen makes. This year I thought again of the unhappy marriage between Elizabeth’s parents and Austen’s comment on how an ideal partnership deserves respect for everyone. Even if I had read the book only once at an age at which I could understand it, I would never have learned as much from it as from subsequent reviews.
But it’s not just about the book. Rereading has become a way for me over the years to measure changes in myself. When I could no longer read Twilight with the sheer joy I used to have, or when I finally understood the heartache depicted in Wuthering Heights, I found that I had changed. I was paying attention to different things. I found joy in books I hadn’t expected and couldn’t go back to old favorites with the same enthusiasm.
Rereading has also changed the way I handle books. If I don’t fully understand a book I’ve read, I don’t worry about it because I know I can come back later and try again. If I find a book boring or just painful, I let go of it. Reading again has taught me that there are an infinite number of books to love, but I’m not necessarily going to love them now, at this point in my life. There are some I would have loved years ago, and some I will learn to love forever from then on.
For now, I’m going to get lost in another book that I read before. The lesser-traveled road may be exciting, but the busy road often has old, beloved friends.