I used to be a chronic rereader. There was this book — The Canada Geese Quilt, by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock. The author visited my elementary school every year, so my book was signed. It was my first autographed book, so it was a big deal…even though she signed everyone else’s book, too. But in my mind, this book was mine. Not only was it my first signed book, it was also the first book I read in one sitting. (But certainly not the last — I was an English major, after all. And a master procrastinator.)
I don’t remember much about that book. A girl learns how to make quilts, possibly from her grandmother. Actually, now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure the grandma dies. Spoiler alert. I learned that they’re called “Canada geese,” not “Canadian geese.” Other than that, I literally remember nothing, but for some reason that book stuck with me. I reread it once a month, I’m not even kidding.
Starting with The Canada Geese Quilt and up until now, I guess, rereading has been a source of comfort for me. This comfort generally came in the form of one of the seven Harry Potter books. The good thing about loving a series so intensely is that each book makes me feel something different. Based on my mood and where my mind is at in that moment, I know which of the seven is bound to bring me the most joy.
From a less emotional, more intellectual standpoint, I found real value in rereading books in college. Like I said, I was an English major. Rereading was part of the deal. I’d take classes and have to reread books I’d read in high school, or even books I’d read the previous semester. But for the most part, this wasn’t exhausting. It was enlightening. There were books I got little or nothing out of the first time I read them. Camus’ The Stranger was one. Bronte’s Jane Eyre was a surprising second. Then, I read each of them over again for different classes and had completely different experiences. Maybe it was the professor. Maybe it was the details brought up in class discussions. Or maybe I’m just constantly growing as a reader and sometimes all it takes is a new, more experienced perspective. Listen, college is a wonderful place, okay?
That being said, my rereading experience hasn’t been devoid of heartbreak. I’m terrified to reread Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four because it’s one of my favorite books of all time and I’ve only read it once. What if, years later, it doesn’t hold up? What if it isn’t as profound as sixteen-year-old me thought it was? This has happened to me before, of course. I’m slowly making my way through all thirteen A Series of Unfortunate Events audiobooks because they were my favorite non-Harry Potter books when I was younger. But the reason it’s taking me so long is because I’m bored. I grow frustrated with the repetitive storylines and the lack of character development and have to stop listening for days, even weeks or months, at a time.
So yeah, rereading can be fun, but at what cost? Is it worth rereading my childhood and adolescent favorites now I’m clearly outside the target audience, only to find them annoying and below my intelligence level? Or is it better to keep them engrained in my memory as they were back then? Or, in the case of the books I once despised, do I give them another chance?
Or am I overthinking this whole process? Maybe the real joy of having access to physical books is that they’re timeless — you can keep them on your shelf and go back to them when, or if, you desire.
Maybe part of growing older and learning more and experiencing more is accepting that your opinions on these things will change. Maybe I need to accept that my experience rereading A Series of Unfortunate Events as a 24-year-old college-educated adult will be different than my experience as an eight-year-old book lover and, more importantly, that both experiences are valuable.
Rereading can be a source of comfort or disappointment, but it can also show you how much you’ve grown as a reader, a thinker, and a person.
So for now, I’ll just keep rereading Order of the Phoenix until it gets old. Which is a funny joke, because it’ll never get old.