The pleasures (and occasional perils) of rereading

Autumn LeavesRe-reading is often quite a reflective practice, why is why I wanted to illustrate this blog post with a beautiful shot of an autumn day; because autumn, too, seems like a time for reflection. A time to look back on the year so far, before the excitement and distractions of the holiday season. But the weather has been so dreadful for so long, it’s taken me ages to get a sunny day and the chance to go out and look at the leaves before they fall. I finally managed to take this snap last week, so now I can start!

The delay hasn’t been entirely bad – it’s given me more time to reflect on the practice of re-reading. I read things again for many reasons. Sometimes I’m too tired to concentrate on anything, so a book where I already know the plot is perfect. ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is a favourite, of course, but I’ve probably read ‘Persuasion’ more often. That makes sense, because ‘Persuasion’ is a book about reflection, and reading it at different times in my life it’s given me different things to think about. ‘Emma’, though, is one book I swore I would never re-read. I just find it too embarrassing. If I had made such a cake of myself as Emma did, I’d have had to emigrate – even though I know what a challenge that would have been at the time.

Sometimes, I re-read books I don’t like. I hated Dickens’ ‘Hard Times’ when I read it school. Really, really, hated it And yet, every few years I read it again. Perhaps I hope that one time, miraculously, the story will have changed, and poor Louisa have the happy ending she deserves. Sometimes I reread books because I don’t remember reading them the first time! I’ve lost count of the times a gradual feeling of déjà vu has come over me, and it’s particularly embarrassing when I still can’t remember who was the murderer, or which man she marries.

But most of all, I re-read books to evoke the feelings I had when I first read them. The promise of new possibilities, or the opportunities for exploration in the real or imagined world. I still remember the thrill I felt when I read my first Narnia book, ‘Prince Caspian’, and it remains a favourite. For years, I put off re-reading ‘Anne of Green Gables’ and the sequels, as I feared they might not be exactly as I remembered. But of course they were, and I had a flashback to reading my mother’s shabby copies from the 1930s. I suppose books are the closest we can come to time travel, since the person we were when we read them is still trapped in the pages.

Why do you reread books?

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