Where do you weigh in on re-reading books?
Personally, I've always been a fan of it. In my earlier life as a classroom teacher, I had a summer tradition of re-reading Rosamunde Pilcher's The Shell Seekers. As the students and I cleared out desks and closed up our classroom for the year, just the thought of curling up with that favorite novel sparked joyful anticipation.
Re-reading old favorites is something I've done my whole life. Partly because, after time goes by, I forget the particulars of what I especially loved about a book that was enjoyable to me, and partly because I've always found it comforting to curl up with a familiar favorite.
But the best reason to re-read a book I found in the words of author Ann Patchett. In her story collection These Precious Days, Patchett writes in one essay about Eudora Welty, specifically about the first Welty story she read as a 12-year-old girl and, how, in revisiting this piece as a grown woman, Patchett is surprised to find that her empathy for and understanding of the characters had shifted completely. In her first reading, young Patchett found a couple of the older characters off-putting and instead identified with the young protagonist closer to Patchett's own age. In re-reading it later in life, Patchett expressed her pleasant surprise to now empathize with the older characters' points of view and situations.
"This is why we have to go back," Patchett writes, "because, even as the text stays completely true to the writer's intention, we readers never cease to change. If you've read these stories before, I beg you, read them again. Chances are, you will find them to be completely new."
The text stays true to the writer's intention, but we readers never cease to change. I love this notion, that we readers are in flux but what a writer has set down in print remains constant. And those same words can touch you in completely different ways depending on your season in life. This, for me, is a compelling enough reason to re-visit a book, but as I delved into this topic a bit more, I found additional evidence supporting the re-read.
Five Reasons to Re-Read a Book
1. Books speak to the person who you are at the time of the reading. Re-reading a book from the vantage point of being a bit older, with life experience you didn't have before allows for new insight and connection to characters and themes that may not have been relevant to you during your first go-around. Because you already have familiarity with the characters and plotlines, you can shift your attention to other details, absorbing what you might need at this particular moment in your life.
2. Re-reading a book has the power to pull you out of a reading slump, should you find yourself in the midst of one. Being acquainted with the particulars of a book provides a gentle re-entry into a reading habit that may have turned stagnant. For this, I do suggest you pick your most beloved book and dive right into its familiarity. 3. Spending time with a book you already know is calming and comforting. Feeling a little nostalgic or homesick? Missing a specific travel experience or time period in your life? Try a well-loved book. Sometimes, curling up with a beloved book evokes the same restorative feelings as spending time with a good friend, and can spark positive memories or feelings of whatever you might be yearning for. I find that if I can recall what I was reading during a vacation or trip, just thinking about it or reading a few pages has the power to bring me back to that moment in my life. 4. Re-reading a book can help us become better readers, and deepen our understanding of the text. In subsequent readings of a text, we can devote more time to the nuances of a story, allowing us to make connections and delve deeper into content, characters, and themes. 5. It's a great way to prep for the next book in a series or to get ready for the book's movie or television adaptation. (When in doubt -- read the book first!)
The days of my solitary summer reading, cozy on my lounge chair with my worn copy of The Shell Seekers, are long gone. But this summer tradition has found a happy replacement: the mother-daughter book club. And with my daughter being a rising high school senior, I feel an urgency to keep this custom alive.
When I asked what she might want us to read this summer, she settled on a beloved favorite of ours, The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. My heart did a little happy dance at its mention.
"Oh, one of our favorites..." I said to her, "I'd love to re-read that book!"
"Me too," she responded. "I was so young when I read it before, I know it will be a completely new book to me."
I couldn't agree more, and I can't wait to hear what new wisdom it holds for her. And even though this will be my fourth read, I know it's got some hidden treasures for me as well.