My mom and I are both avid readers; I give her the bulk of the credit for my love of the written word. We regularly trade and discuss books, and “I just finished my book — I need something new to read” is a common refrain in our conversations.
The one divergence in our reading habits is that I love re-reading books which, according to my mother, she “can’t” do. I’ve asked her numerous times to explain herself, but to date, I’ve never really gotten a satisfactory answer (“I don’t know — once I read a book once, I don’t need to read it again.”) The only books she has read more than once is the Harry Potter series, which is another great recommendation for it being one of the best series ever.
Even if she could explain her logic to me, I doubt I would be able to follow it. Reading a book for the first time and re-reading a book over and over are sort of like my two non-existent children — they are different, but I love them both equally.
It would appear that my mother and I are a microcosm of a popular debate among literati about the merits versus downsides of re-reading books. As always, people are entitled to their predilections (although I think it goes a little far to say people who re-read books are "arrogant, narrow-minded and dim"), but I remain firmly in the re-reading camp, and am ever-ready to shout the praises of revisiting your favorite books.
Reliving your favorite moments...
Human beings are creatures of habit. We derive comfort and pleasure from the familiar, and books are no exception. There are any number of reasons a particular passage of a book infinitely re-readable — maybe it makes you laugh out loud, maybe it inspires you, maybe the language is so joyous and beautiful it is the literary equivalent of unicorns dancing on rainbows. Whatever the reason, you know you want that feeling that it gives you over and over and over.
...and making new discoveries
Like ogres and onions, good literature should have some layers. Sure, it's fine if it's simplistic enough to absorb in one read, but isn't it more fun to be able to dig back in and find new nuances and complexities you maybe missed the first or second time?
Revisiting characters is like catching up with old friends
Great characters — intriguing, intelligent, complex, funny, fascinating people (or animals) — are a huge part of what makes reading so, well, great. By the time you reach the last page of a book, a well-drawn characters feels like a living, breathing person that you wish you could keep hanging out with. Since that's not possible, the next best thing is flipping back to page one and starting over.
As you change, so will your perspective on the story and characters
As a teenager, one of my favorite books was Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty. The main character, Jessica Darling was me, down to the messy brunette ponytail and utter disdain for everything related to high school. Reading that book was like commiserating with a close friend who just got it (see No. 3). Re-reading the book as a young adult, with several years between high school and the present, and the attendant life experience, I got to see the story in a whole new light. I found sympathy for characters I didn't previously have, and saw that Jess (and by extension, me), in all her 16-year-old know-it-all glory could be just a teensy bit insufferable. Oh, the lessons you learn.
"Hey, I get that reference now!"
Knowledge is cumulative, and things we pick up along the way can come back to surprise us in the most unlikely places, including books. Call me a nerd, but I feel a thrill of delight each time I re-read a book and pick up on a reference that throws back to something I learned since my last reading.
You can take it nice and slow
Yes, it's definitely fun to get a new book and become so consumed with the story that you can't stop reading until you find out how it all ends because otherwise you'll be completely useless until you do, but sometimes, that can be a lot of pressure. Re-reading a book means the experience doesn't have to be a race to the finish line, but can rather be a leisurely stroll that gives you time to stop and notice details you might have missed the first time around.
You can anticipate the best parts of the story...
Whether it's Harry's first Quidditch game or the ball in Meryton, when you know a particularly delicious part of the story is only a few pages away, it's hard to ignore that tingle of exhilaration. Everybody loves having something to look forward to, right?
...and brace yourself for the tough sections
On the flip side, probably one of the worst parts of reading a book for the first time is not knowing when you're going to get sucker-punched in the gut by a traumatic or disturbing moment. While repeatedly exposing yourself to tear-jerker moments or gruesome imagery may be hazardous to your health, at least when you're re-reading a book, you can mentally and emotionally prepare for the tough passages (or skip them altogether if it's just too much).
The book is good and broken-in
My boyfriend constantly chides me for the abuse I inflict upon my books. I argue that they're just well-loved. So what if the spine is cracked, the pages are dog-eared and the cover is held on with masking tape? All those creases and cracks represent the hours of happiness those books have brought to me.
You know it's going to be good
Sometimes you just want a sure thing. Nothing against picking up an unfamiliar book with a brand new story — you should absolutely do that, too — but reaching for a book you've read before is like watching a movie for the 10th time, or eating at your favorite restaurant. You know that it's bound to be good. Sometimes, in this crazy, unstable world we live in, we just want a little consistency.
Interruptions won't piss you off as much
Or maybe they still will. After all, just because you read it before doesn't mean you're ready to put it down now.
Images: Nick/flickr, Giphy (11)