April 11, 2019

On the joys of rereading books

As a child, as soon as I finished a book I really enjoyed, I would reread it. In part, this was because I didn’t want to leave behind the characters the author had created. I also was convinced that I would never ever find another book that I would like as much (too bad NoveList wasn’t around then!). I got the same amount of pleasure out of reading a book for the 20th time as I did the first. Incidentally, I can still recite the first paragraph of Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons

There is a certain distinct pleasure in rereading. Coming back to a book you love is cozy and comfortable and can wrap around you like a hug. You know what to expect, and that is part of the pleasure. However, I have found that in the last ten years, I have stopped rereading so often. Oh, I’ll go back to certain passages I particularly liked, but I very rarely actually reread an entire book. When I do, it is inevitably a young adult book which I attribute to the fact that there were very few books marketed as young adult when I was growing up, and now, I can’t get enough. 

I am constantly haunted by the knowledge that I will never be able to read everything I want to in my lifetime, so why use up time rereading? But perhaps even stronger than this is the fear that I won’t like the book when I read it for the second time. Certain books I have read as an adult I love not just because they are entertaining and well-written, but because they were the right book at the right time. And that time won’t come back. I have a very distinct memory of rereading Lawrence Durrell’s Justine one summer and realizing after three pages into it that reading it as an undergrad was going to be very different from reading it as a thirty-something. It was a terrible discovery. I wanted to feel the same thrill I got the first time, but it was not to be. (That same year I happened to meet a bookseller who told me that anytime he felt sad he would reread the entire Alexandria quartet, so to each their own).

The last book I gave five stars to on Goodreads was The Mere Wife by Maria Dhavana Headley. If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s a modern reworking of Beowulf. It’s gorgeous, thought-provoking, and timely … and it absolutely gutted me. I love it, but I’ll never read it again. I would hate it if another book that had such an impression on me at one time would lose that brilliance upon a second reading. And so, I rarely reread anymore.

I’m glad I now work for NoveList and have the fortune of always having a way to find the right book for the right time. Are you a rereader? Or a sometime rereader? Have you found that a second read doesn’t measure up to the first? How do you use NoveList to find your right book at the right time?

Elizabeth Coleman is a Metadata Librarian II for NoveList.


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