I am someone who is always buying new books or asking for them at birthdays and Christmas, even though I have dozens on my shelves still unread. I check out books from the library, subscribe to a monthly book club, and download eBooks.
But as often as I seek out new reads, I return to old favorites – books I’ve read four, five, even six or more times. I’m not alone in this. I’ve seen many others write about how they reread all of Jane Austen’s works every year (Pride & Prejudice is in my five plus reads list), or all of the Little House books (check). Someone even wrote about rereading and why we do it. In this way, rereading is like watching your favorite movies or TV shows again and again, whether it’s The Wizard of Oz for the 40th time (guilty), or knowing every line in an episode of The West Wing by heart (yep).
Research shows that we return to favorite experiences, whether it’s food, music, movies, books, or traditions because of the overwhelming sense of nostalgia and comfort that provides. And while we may not be as enthralled with each repetition, we often continue to discover something new, because we have evolved and experienced other things in life in between viewings or readings.
When I look at my bookshelf, I see the gradual wear and tear on my books from countless moves around the country; I’ve had some for more than 25 years. But I also see cracks in the spine and bent covers and dog-eared pages that are the telltale signs of multiple readings – and multiple experiences of the “warm and fuzzies.” I may not be surprised anymore at the ending of Louisa May Alcott’s An Old-Fashioned Girl; I may not gloss over Laura Ingalls Wilder’s not so politically correct observations about Native Americans; and I may not be so shocked at the outcome of To Kill a Mockingbird. But with each rereading, I discover a character trait I missed, a piece of dialogue that has new meaning, or a plot point that is now relevant to me as an adult.
One of my favorite experiences of rereading brought about an entirely unexpected outcome: it put me in touch with the author more than 15 years after I first read her novels, and I got to meet her in person. Ginny Dye, who for years wrote under the pseudonym Virginia Gaffney, wrote a Civil War historical fiction series that I reread many times as a teen. Then with some internet research a couple of years ago, I discovered that she had written a fifth book that I was unaware of, under her real name, and she had picked the series up again and had a very engaged community with her readers online. Initially, I just told Ginny on her Facebook page how much I had loved her books as a kid and how excited I was to read her new books. Then, on what I thought was a long shot, when she mentioned in one of her email newsletters that she would be in my city for a couple of days, I wrote and asked her how we could meet – and she immediately suggested meeting me for breakfast. We ended up having a wonderful conversation, and I felt like I had met a kindred spirit. Today, Ginny and I email from time to time and she always encourages me to keep writing.
This experience and the countless others I’ve had when cracking open a beloved book again define who I am as a reader and a writer, and as a person. To me, books aren’t meant to be read and put away, never to be looked at again. Each rereading is like a memory, to be lived again, albeit in a slightly different way. Each rereading triggers new feelings, new sensations, and new opinions. Each rereading is a new opportunity to fall in love with reading all over again.