Hello, Old Friends: Re-reading Books

There is something so comfortable in re-reading a book. It’s like walking down a familiar road ““ you know the lay of the land, and you can take your time, unhurried by the thrill of new discovery. Still, as you meander further, small details pop out that you hadn’t noticed before.

When I was a kid, I would re-read books constantly. I was a voracious reader, and retreading those cozy pages didn’t diminish the scope of my literary journey. But, even with my brain safely soaking up new information, my dad would still give me a good-natured hard time about it. “How many times have you read that book? Four?”

As I’ve gone through school, the amount of time I spend on reading books just for fun has decreased, eaten away by other, more pressing demands. I know, I know. What can be more pressing than diving, eyes first, into someone else’s story? My dissertation, for starters. Also, the dog gets awfully whiny when I neglect his walks.

I regret not reading more. I still buy books often, only to have them collect dust on every available surface in my house. I refuse to place them on bookshelves until I’ve actually read them, my last desperate attempt to keep some sort of order among their ranks. They slowly make their way from the side table to the bookshelf, but at a clip that would embarrass 10-year-old me. She’d give me a scolding if she weren’t a) trapped in the past, b) nervous about talking to adults and c) likely scarred by the experience of seeing future-her.

The biggest casualty in this war with time is the loss of the chance to re-read old books. Each one gets read once. A few get a second glance, but only the ones light enough to hold my scattered attention during travel. This loss hurts the most, and not just because I miss the feeling of wandering down a familiar path.

Isn’t it funny how change becomes most apparent against a constant backdrop? Books are these beautifully static things until people interact with them. This feeling, this missing of the chance to go back and re-read isn’t just about revisiting a story, but about revisiting a me. I can’t believe I don’t have time for that any more.

Each time I walk through a book, the characters reflect me. So as I change and age, hopefully mature but definitely age, the characters change, too. The scenery takes on new tints of light, casual words hold more or less weight. The books are fundamentally the same, yet completely different due to my differences. I learn as much about the story, the characters, the author, the human condition, as I do about myself. It’s a process of interactive reflection, a chance to see which scars and tattoos I’ve acquired, to see how my younger self has in some ways become a stranger.

I love seeing summer reading lists come out. They are like New Year’s resolutions ““ brimming with optimism for the willpower of our future selves. I try to make some for myself, but they become far too long. This year, I’ll inevitably try again to make a list, budgeting one week per book, 12 books per summer. But unlike in the past, I will make sure some of those listed are old friends, just itching to be read again.

 

3 thoughts on “Hello, Old Friends: Re-reading Books”

  1. I re-read books like I re-watch series shows. I’ve gone through Walden about 4 times and I’ve stopped keeping track of how many times I’ve gone through Gilmore Girls. (what is it about New England?).

    I’ve gone through To Kill A Mockingbird, LOTR and Beauty about 3 times for each.

    This summer I hope to return to Dune (the first one, not the entire original series) because I loved it so much last year. Oh, and I need to go through Harry Potter again.

    Rereading books sears the images into my memory so much better the second time around. I have better clarity, comprehension. I’ll probably still cry though. You can’t change that, it’s a sign of a good writer/artist.

    Here’s to the return of a good summer! :)

  2. I share your pain. Without meaning to sound melodramatic,sometimes I feel actually sad about all the books I’ve read and loved and won’t read again because of my ever increasing pile of unread books. And don’t get me started on the occasional moments of panic when I start to think about the sheer quantity of great books out there that I can never hope to scratch the surface of!

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