The Joys of Rereading
This year as been a rereading renaissance for me. Before I began blogging, I reread frequently, but with blogging I became exposed to so many books and authors that the sheer variety on display tempted me to always be exploring something new. I didn’t make an intentional decision to stop rereading in order to have more time for first reads, but that’s ultimately what happened. I reread at most 10-20 books a year, which is not even 10% of my average annual reading total. I also started feeling funny about rereading fairly new books, as if I should only reread books every five years or so. And then my arthritis made itself known, and I’ve spent the past two years more out of the book blogosphere than within it. Left to myself, I find I reread more and more frequently these days, even books that I might have only read for the first time in the past year or so.
And it’s been such a delight! I love how I can relax while rereading a book; I already know what will happen, that the quality is consistent throughout, which characters I can become most attached to. I wouldn’t give up my tabula rasa first reading for anything (hence my strong feelings about ‘spoilers’ and the need to label them as such), with the book unfolding just as the author intended, whether full of surprises or fulfilling all of its foreshadowing, but I find the subsequent rereads sweeter or more bittersweet, as the case might be. I can slow down, take the time to notice all of the little details I might have missed in my first, plot-motivated reading. Or I can savour the development of a beloved character, knowing how everything will turn out. Or I can be challenged all over again by an author with a determined message or oblique style, and get even more out of the book.
Rereading reminds me of the ultimate magic of the reading act: while the book is the author’s own, the reading of it is a dance between myself and the author. And we won’t dance precisely the same way twice; while the book stays the same, I have not. I like being reminded of that, if at times it’s disconcerting to realise, say, that one is now older than all of Austen’s heroines. Even Anne.
I wonder if falling back in love with rereading has also prompted my sudden love of poetry. For years, poetry has intimidated me. Unlike any type of fiction or nonfiction book, which can be read from the beginning to the end without much effort, in as few sittings as you’d like, I never knew what to *do* with poetry. Now, I crave rereading some old favourite poems and want to begin reading poets that have always intrigued me; poetry no longer feels like such a mystery. I’ve also begun memorising some of those favourites, possibly the strongest act of rereading possible. It’s lovely being able to savour those words and thoughts whenever I like, and I hope to make many more poems part of me in the years to come.
Although I am now making blogging a priority again, and have a different computer that makes this easier for me despite the arthritis, I hope to retain my rereading emphasis. If anything, with my new desire to add a bit of structured liberal arts self-education to my days, I will likely be rereading more than ever. That thought fills me with such joy, as much as does the thought of all of the wonderful books out there waiting me to uncover them. They can wait patiently for a bit longer, while I deepen my relationship with a known book instead. And with that, I shall get back into my current book, Sarah Water’s The Little Stranger. This is my second time with it, and I’m approaching it so differently (without expecting-or attempting to predict-major twists or causes) it feels like it might as well be the first. Although my sympathy with Caroline remains just as strong. Do you have any favourite books to revisit?