The Pleasures of Rereading
As much as I love Nick Hornby’s writing about reading, there is one thing on which I must respectfully disagree with him: I love rereading.
Once upon a time, long before I discovered book blogging, I reread far more frequently than I do now. When I was looking back over this year, I was ashamed to find that I’ve only reread 10 books…has my pattern really changed that much? Last year, I began rereading Laurie King’s Mary Russell series (if you haven’t yet treated yourselves to these, pick up The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and thank me later), but I haven’t read any but the newest one this year! And where are the Peter Wimsey books I could have sworn I’d picked up? And only one Jane Austen? Really? To be fair, that total of 10 is a bit misleading; sometimes, I don’t bother rereading an *entire* book but just reread bits and pieces. In that case, I of course don’t count it on my books read list, but it lets me revisit a favourite for a bit of a boost.
Still, this hasn’t been the best year to show that I am in fact a passionate rereader. You’ll just have to trust me. I cannot imagine my life with rereading; it would be like never being able to talk with my friends again. What would I DO if I couldn’t go back to old favourites? Rereading is a security blanket for me, and I suspect I could have ended the several reading slumps I experienced this year much more quickly by just getting lost in a well-love, previously-read book (instead, my focus this year was on reading more of authors I’ve already loved…which has a similar idea behind it at least). As a child, I reread my favourites over and over, and while as an adult I’m not quite so frequent a rereader, I’d be willing to bet I’ve still read some books first discovered as a teen upwards of 5 times, perhaps edging towards 10.
I believe that part of my joy from rereading is based on what I really love in books: characters and marvelous writing. So getting to re-connect with a character is one of the best gifts of rereading; sometimes they’re different than I remember, sometimes they’re the same, but they’re always there, waiting patiently for me. And getting to once again luxuriate in a favourite author’s prose? It’s like slipping into a hot tub at the end of a long day: soothing and delicious. The thing is, the first time I’m reading a book, no matter how much I love it, I’m always aware that it has the potential to go wrong. What if, at the last second, the author decides to do something I completely disagree with? I can never completely relax. Whereas, upon revisiting a beloved book, I already know that I’m in good hands, that there aren’t going to be any nasty surprises to ruin things, and therefore I can become even more immersed in the reading experience.
Rereading allows me to see how interactive reading truly is; depending on where I am in life, I might interpret a character in an entirely different way. I first read Emma when I was 12 or 13. At the time, I loathed her; I thought she was an insufferable little twit who didn’t deserve her good fortune. But then, when I revisited it, I began to see things differently; I saw how her quickness to judge and her too firm resolve that her own opinions were always right created problems and mischief. I still didn’t really like her all that much, but I no longer saw her as horrid; instead, I just saw her as delusional and quite comic. And I loved the final, climactic scene…I thought it was much more emotional than the one in Pride and Prejudice. In 2008, I reread Emma again, when going through a particularly difficult time. And suddenly, I loved Emma. I saw her as a young girl who makes mistakes, but who is able to correct them. Even though they feel like horribly huge mistakes at the time, none of them ruin any lives; occasionally, she has to suffer through uncomfortable scenes to set things right, but she manages to do so. For the first time, I truly identified with Emma, and I thanked Jane Austen for giving me a book with such hope for the future. Emma’s happy ending became a promise that I too could have a happy ending, despite all my silly blunders. It was a book for me to cling to. I chose Emma in part because it’s a book I’ve often seen mentioned as better on the second time around, but I could have chosen others. Other books I didn’t like all that much on first reading and loved on the reread that jump to mind include American Gods and The Turn of the Screw.
Those latter ones illustrate another point about rereading; since I already know where the author is going, I can admire how s/he gets there. I tend to notice more upon each rereading; I already have the big-picture stuff of the book down, so I can stop and take in the details. It’s rather like visiting a city once, when you’re still learning how to get around and trying to track where you are, versus returning enough times that you can saunter around without any fear. When my brain isn’t caught up with ideas of plot, it can play with other things. And this brings up a rather odd fact: I adore rereading mysteries. And I’m not just talking about ones like Laurie King’s or Dorothy Sayer’s, which are focused at least as much on character as they are on the plot. No, I love rereading Agatha Christie style whodunnits. It’s such fun, knowing who the killer is, to see the careful way she gives you real clues and red herrings! Not to mention watching the killer try to escape notice. ;)
I will say that, in general, I reread more older stuff than contemporary literature (and my rereading is almost exclusive to fiction). The exception is my very favourite authors, like Neil Gaiman and A.S. Byatt and Laurie King, whose works I could reread a hundred times and still have more to discover. I suspect in the next few years, though, I’ll have several contemporary authors to add to that list; my tendency to reread classics isn’t deliberate and I’d like to change things a bit. I already have a few hunches I want to follow up!
To be honest, if I had to choose today between *only* rereading or *never* rereading again, I would choose to spend the rest of my life rereading. And that choice would only take a nanosecond. That’s how important it is to me, and how unimaginable I find a world in which I can’t reconnect with books I’ve loved in the past. Next year, I plan to focus far more on getting back into the rereading habit, and I think it’d be neat to do posts about the books I end up revisiting. I’ll have to figure out the best way to talk about them! :)
How do you feel about rereading? If you had to choose between only reading new-to-you books or only rereading, which would you do? Do you re-watch movies or TV shows? (I do! Frequently!)