Rereading is a joy. It is perhaps the greatest joy as one gets older.
And yet readers express guilt about rereading. Not I, mind you. But in several “Best of the Year” and “Round-up of of the Year” posts, bloggers and Booktube vloggers admitted sheepishly that one or two of their books were rereads.
This is very sad, because it is so Calvinist. One needn’t forge ahead; one needn’t worry about the number. The world is not a giant TBR checklist. And yet more and more at Book Riot, Bustle, and other online publications, writers are desperately trying to find ways to meet challenges and Goodreads goals.
I started rereading very young, in the children’s section of the Iowa City public library. How many times did I read Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, Cordelia Jones’s Nobody’s Garden, Philippa Pearce’s Tom’s Midnight Garden, and E. Nesbit’s The Wonderful Garden? And those are just the garden-themed novels.
In middle age, rereading becomes more delightful. You are not lost in a book, but you are more observant. You reimagine literary landscapes, parse periodic sentences, thrill to the details of the narrative. Nineteenth-century writings are especially powerful rereads: those great writers simply were better-educated than most of our contemporaries. We imagine George Eliot studying German theology, Trollope writing the Life of Cicero, Harriet Beecher Stowe weaving politics into her novels, and Thoreau living at Walden as he meditates on transcendentalism.
But I also read and reread less well-known books by Dodie Smith, Pamela Hansford Johnson, Alice Thomas Ellis, Jean Rhys, L. P. Hartley, Molly Keane, and many others. I love mysteries and science fiction. I am a fan of humor writers Cornelia Otis Skinner and Emily Kimbrough. I draw the line at romance, but you have to draw the line somewhere.
It is such a hectic world: we need to direct our own reading to an extent, instead of worrying about online book groups or meeting a Goodreads challenge. Kerry Jarema at Bustle, in her recent article “9 Unconventional Tips That Will Actually Help You Finish More Books in 2018,” recommends taking a social media break if you feel “reading pressure.”
Have you read Rereadings: Seventeen Writers Revisit Books They Love, edited by Anne Fadiman? It is the perfect book for us rereaders.
And let me know your favorite rereads.