On Re-Reading

Do you re-read? I love to re-read. I do it all the time.

Some books are comfortable, familiar and relaxing (Harry Potter, Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown, Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere). Sometimes a particular character feels like a friend  I want to spend more time with (Q from Paper Towns) or the world of a book is a place I wish I could go (Cabeswater in The Raven Boys). Lately, I end up reading books by favorite authors or new books in a series too fast to savor them properly on the first go (The Fault in Our Stars, Clockwork Princess), so I like to go back and spend a more leisurely time with them later to notice details and moon over sentences. I also spend a lot of time commuting by car and have decided the best books to listen to while driving are books where I already know what happens.  That way I’m not distracted from driving by a suspenseful twist of plot. And it’s  fun to hear someone else read a book, especially when they sound like the characters (The Scorpio Races was great for this). I am currently in the midst of a Shadowhunter audiobook marathon, in part because I am excited about the City of Bones movie, and in part to refresh my memory before the final book in the Mortal Instruments, even though it doesn’t come out until next year.

When I was a teen, I rediscovered A Wrinkle in Time, a book I’d read as younger child, and saw myself in it in such a profound way that I still re-read it every year or so. It reminds me that no matter how cranky you feel, the power of love is still strong magic.  I also read The Lord of the Rings twice, once when I was twelve, and once when I was sixteen. It seemed a very different book each time. Perhaps it is time to revisit it again.

Bloggers here and on The Hub, YALSA’s literature blog, got thinking about re-reading with this article: The Case for Rereding the High School Classics, posted on The Atlantic Wire’s Y.A. for Grownups column last month. We’re posting on both blogs today to share our thoughts. So after you’re done here, go over to The Hub and hear from some more of our bloggers. If you’re visiting us from The Hub, welcome! Take a look around, stay awhile. Here are some thoughts on re-reading from YALSAblog bloggers and Hub bloggers.

Wendy Stephens: “I re-read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which had been a middle school favorite of mine, a couple of summers ago. What shocked me was the amount of s-e-x in the story. I’d remembered (and probably caught) little of that then, despite reading it a half-dozen times as a tween. I was so surprised, I felt like the censorious parent of my younger self.”

Annie Schutte: “I almost never reread–there are way too many books in the world and I want to try to get through as many as I can. But there’s one exception: Kristin Cashore. I’ve reread Graceling and Fire each about a dozen times and cry every time. Those two books just seem to elicit a feeling that I keep wanting to go back to.”

Amanda Margis: “I don’t believe in rereading a book unless an outside force makes me. Sometimes I reread books I’ve previously read for a book club or if I want to highlight a book for a blog post or for a reading challenge. I’m currently trying to read all the Printz winner and honor books. Some I might reread since it has been years since I first read them and I’m interested now that I’m a professional if my opinion has changed. But most I probably will not reread. I feel there are so many books I’ve yet to read that I haven’t, it is a waste of my finite reading time to reread.

That said there are books I reread probably once a year, a paperback romance novel that I adore (The Bridal Season by Connie Brockway) and a certain picture book I can’t get out of my head or heart (Many Moons by James Thurber). And there are some books I would like to reread but I worry about not enjoying it as much the second time around. For me, much of the pleasure of reading comes from the discovery and journey of new characters to new places. I can remember where and when I read certain books and what was going on in my life. They are tied to the memory and that place and trying to recapture that exciting and new feeling, just doesn’t work for me.”

Jessica Miller: “Though there are some books that I would love to revisit, I rarely have time to reread.  Too many great new books are being published every year and with my professional reviewing obligations, it’s all I can do to keep up with the new things that are coming out! That being said, I do make time every year to reread my absolute favorite book of all time, Tamora Pierce’s Alanna: The First Adventure.  I don’t think a year has gone by since I was about 12 that I didn’t reread that book.”

Sarah Debraski: “I love to reread! You could probably guess that since my whole series of posts on The Hub is about rereading favorites from my teen years. :) When I was a teenager and younger child I used to reread all the time. I had a hard time finding new books that I liked in my library, so I just reread all the ones I knew I’d love already.  As an adult I reread much less (I don’t seem to have that problem anymore of finding new books!) but there are some that I do turn to like good old comfortable friends, books by Rosamunde Pilcher especially.  When I reread now I love re-discovering what made me love a book in the first place, and when I reread books from my childhood I do like looking at them with a new perspective.”

Chelsea Condren: “I re-read almost incessantly! I love Harry Potter so much I have a tattoo of Hermione’s time turner, so it’s definitely my favorite thing to re-read. I also re-read a lot of novels if I think I might have missed something the first time. Stuff by David Foster Wallace or Jonathan Franzen is an example of this. In terms of YA stuff, I often go back and re-read stuff that was my favorite as a teen, which can either be awesome or totally backfire depending on how the writing holds up.”

Julie Bartel: “I read The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas over 35 times between 4th and 8th grade; I can still quote most of the last couple pages of the novel from memory.  In 8th grade my re-reading allegiance switched quite suddenly (for reasons I don’t remember at all) to Frank Herbert’s Dune, which I read over and over for at least two years.  I memorized a lot of the “Collected Sayings” sprinkled throughout that book as well—I was 14 and thought they contained—like The Count of Monte Cristo—the wisdom of the ages.  In other words, I’m definitely a re-reader.  I haven’t read either book for at least 10 years or more now, but there are a handful of other books I re-read almost every year: Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin, The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper (every December), the high school Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace, and Charles de Lint’s Somplace to be Flying (around my birthday) to name a few.  There’s something about revisiting a book that I really love—it’s part discovery and part comfort, and almost always totally satisfying.

I don’t have the luxury of re-reading as much as I’d like—or at all, really—save for the few books I simply have to read each year.  I have a list of titles and series I’m dying to revisit, but keeping up with what’s new (both a personal and professional necessity) always seems to take precedence.  As usual, I’ve got a huge stack of shiny new books from the library, and I’m truly excited about them.  But right now, I’d give a lot for the time and peace to curl up with Roger Zelazny’s Amber Chronicles or the Green Knowe series by L.M. Boston, or one of Armstrong Sperry’s adventure novels.  Is it possible to feel homesick for a book?”

For more thoughts on re-reading from YALSA bloggers, visit The Hub.

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