The Joys Of Rereading


I have spent much of the last week rereading Louisa May Alcott's books. I worked my way through Little Women, Little Men, and Jo's Boys. I am probably going to read Eight Cousins next. I have read all of these books many, many times. Little Women was read over and over and over when I was a child. I know the story by heart and have a deep and abiding love for it. Nothing will surprise me because I remember it all; Amy's pickled limes, Jo's temper, the plays and newspapers they create, Beth's death, Jo's refusal of Laurie (which is absolutely and completely the right decision) all of it is there unfolding in my mind almost before I read it. So why do I read it again?

Because it is familiar. Because it is comforting. Because it is well-written. Because it is a good story. Because reading a well-loved book over and over again is a joy and a pleasure. Because reading Little Women again is like meeting up with old friends. I know what they are going to say and what interests them but I am still pleased to see them. Because love for a book isn't a one-time-only thing. That love goes on with time and grows with greater knowledge. The first time we read for the story and every time after that we read with a greater appreciation for the creation of that story.

Last week I also read Book by Book by Michael Dirda. He had this to say about the joys of rereading:

This is why rereading is so important. Once we know the plot and its surprises, we can appreciate a book's artistry without the usual confusion and sap flow of emotions, content to follow the action with tenderness and interest, all passion spent. Rather than surrender to the story or the characters--as a good first reader ought--we can now look at how the book works, and instead of swooning over it like a besotted lover begin to appreciate its intricacy and craftmanship. Surprisingly, such dissection doesn't murder the experience. Just the opposite: Only then does a work of art fully live. As Oscar Wilde once said, if a book isn't worth reading over and over again, it isn't worth reading at all. That's a bit extreme--there's a place for the never-to-be-repeated fling--but essentially he's right. This is why Hamlet, Persuasion, and Abalom, Absalom! are endlessly rereadable, why teachers look forward to discussing them year after year. Major works of the imagination only gradually disclose the various facets of their artistry; only slowly do they reveal the subtleties of their construction. The great books are those we want to spend our lives with because they never cease to reward our devotion.

Well, exactly. Whether the books we reread are Shakespeare or Alcott, Austen or Heyer, new or old, classic or simply beloved by us, the reason we reread them is the same. They speak to us in some way. We have come to care about the book beyond the plot because the characters have become people we know.  They are old friends we are happy to meet again and the more often we meet them the more we appreciate their creation.

Do you enjoy rereading?

14 comments

  1. I love to reread. I love revisiting favorite stories and beloved characters. And sometimes, I catch things I missed in previous reads, or things I might have forgotten. Even though I know the story, there's almost always something new.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, frequently I forget the little details even though I remember the main story so I enjoy reading it again. Rereading can be so comforting too.

      Delete
  2. I do agree with you, but then feel guilty about not reading all the new books on my TBR pile. Perhaps we have too many books today!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Too many books!? Is that even possible?

      Delete
  3. I agree with the comments above and totally agree with you that the books I re-read are like old friends, complete comfort reads and it's sometimes a necessary indulgence to immerse myself in one, no matter how many unread books I have in my piles.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, a necessary indulgence. Rereads are more of an escape sometimes because they are so familiar.

      Delete
  4. I agree. There are so many books I want to read and not enough time to read them. I almost never reread, unless I do it by accident!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There are so many books I want to read as well but somehow I end up rereading books anyway. I find it relaxing to escape into a world I already know. But I realize not everyone finds such pleasure in rereading.

      Delete
  5. When I was young my favorite rereads were the Little House books and the Anne of Green Gables books, which I enjoyed rereading well into adulthood. I can't think why I never reread Alcott. Perhaps it's time to start! As an adult my favorite rereads are the Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturins. I guess for me nothing beats a series for rereading. It's that long sustained plunge into a world you know and love.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Little House books and the Anne books were some of my absolute favorites as a child. I read the first book in the Aubrey-Maturins series but somehow have never gotten back to them. I should remedy that.

      Delete
  6. I love rereading too for all the wonderful points you’ve raised. One of the joys of the reread is the chance to see the growth in your own perception & understanding.
    I particularly like the quote you’ve used.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is a wonderful quote, isn't it? I agree, it is interesting to see how our perception and response to a book can change over time. Sometimes it is as if we are reading a completely different book because such different things strike us on a reread.

      Delete
  7. A great book is definitely worth reading more than once. And only after I've read a book many times do I feel it truly becomes a part of me. That's one of the great gifts of rereading for me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, that is so true. I feel a bit possessive of many books that I have read over and over. When people don't like them or criticize parts of them it can bother me a little which is silly since we can't all like the same things. But the books do become part of our identity.

      Delete