Recently I reread two books–Wuthering Heights and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. When it came time to write reviews, I decided to do something a little different. The very act of rereading these books got me thinking about what it means to really reread something and why that might be a beneficial exercise. So I decided to combine my two mini book reviews with my thoughts on that subject.
Before we get started, I’ll mention that for this post I’m mainly talking about fiction. While some nonfiction books are totally worth revisiting (I’m about to start my annual reread of Behold the Lamb of God, and can we talk about The Boys in the Boat, for a minute?), I’d say this post primarily refers to novels. So, with that in mind, I’ve come up with three possible reasons for rereading a book, and I’ve written a bit about each of them below. Up first: rereading for enjoyment.
Rereading for Enjoyment
I mention this as the first category because I think it is the most common. We had a conversation around Thanksgiving about those movies that we always stop to watch. It’s the same with books! Just like you’d never flip past Gladiator or You’ve Got Mail without watching, some books are so dear that we revisit them over and over for the story itself.
This is where you shouldn’t let other people’s opinions on books get in your way. If you like a story, reread it! I can’t even tell you how many times I reread Carry on Mr. Bowditch when I was a kid. It was a sort of strange book about Nathaniel Bowditch, a legendary sailor and navigator. I have no idea why I loved that book so much, but I must have read it fifteen times. Something about it must have really resonated with me. I love what Oscar Wilde says:
If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.
I couldn’t agree more! Recently I reread The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, simply because it’s a lovely book. It was nice to revisit old friends and sink into a story I loved. Next year, make it one of your goals to revisit an old favorite–even if it’s a picture book or a YA read. I have lots of friends who reread the Harry Potter series every year, simply because they love them. This is a great way to keep the stories you love alive in your heart. Here’s what C.S. Lewis has to say about rereading for pleasure:
We do not enjoy a story fully at the first reading. Not till the curiosity, the sheer narrative lust, has been given its sop and laid asleep, are we at leisure to savor the real beauties. Till then, it is like wasting great wine on a ravenous natural thirst which merely wants cold wetness.
I love that Lewis acknowledges that the first time we read something, we’re just trying to figure out the plot and get all of our questions answered. It’s after that first read through that we can really get into the beauty of the story.
Rereading for Appreciation
The second category I have is rereading to better understand or appreciate the literary features of a text. This may sound a little too much like English class for your taste, but I find myself drawn back to books with beautiful writing or interesting ideas. I think revisiting books that challenge you in some way is healthy. Here’s what Spurgeon says about that:
Master those books you have. Read them thoroughly. Bathe in them until they saturate you. Read and reread them…digest them. Let them go into your very self.
And Ernest Hemingway:
In truly good writing no matter how many times you read it you do not know how it is done. That is because there is a mystery in all great writing and that mystery does not dis-sect out. It continues and it is always valid. Each time you re-read you see or learn something new.
When I think about this “category” of rereading, I think about all the books I’d love to revisit one day, but just haven’t had time–Les Miserables, Gilead, and so many others that had absolutely beautiful writing.
Rereading for Reevaluation
Finally, I think sometimes it’s important to revisit books you didn’t enjoy. A lot of people would say this is a bad idea–you shouldn’t waste time going back to books you didn’t like. And while I’m growing to accept that idea, I also think there’s something to be said about trying a book again after a long absence.
For example, in high school I loved Jane Eyre. A friend recommended Wuthering Heights, thinking that if I loved one Bronte sister, I’d love them all. Well, I read Wuthering Heights and didn’t love it. I didn’t understand the relationships between the characters, and I kept getting them confused with each other. I reread Wuthering Heights last month, and, I’m happy to say, I enjoyed it immensely more the second time around. I think that I needed to be older and more mature to really appreciate Heathcliff and Catherine’s tragic and somewhat upsetting love story. I’m glad I went back to a book I never had a real liking for, because now I have a new favorite.
So, what books do you love to revisit? Which books will you revisit in 2018? I’d love to hear in the comments below!
Keep Reading (And Rereading!),