The Art of Rereading


Recently I’ve found myself having conversations with various people about the pleasures and pitfalls of re-reading.

As a child re-reading was a necessity. I was the eldest of 4 children and new books were only expected for birthdays and Christmas. So I read The Secret Seven, Famous Five, The Adventurous Four, Anne of Green Gables & Trixie Belden over and over again. I loved escaping into their worlds – worlds full of adventure, camaraderie and resolutions.

I was happy to borrow from the library, but it wasn’t the same thrill as knowing the book was mine to keep forever.

As an adult, I’ve also enjoyed revisiting favourite books like Pride and Prejudice & To Kill A Mockingbird. The pleasure is in rediscovering the feelings evoked, catching up with old friends and settling into a comfortable yarn.

As a teacher of young children I saw the benefits of re-reading. Re-reading helps young children learn to read themselves.

But that is not why young children ask you to read their favourite book over and over again.

They ask you to reread their favourite story because it is answering some deep unconscious need inside of them.

For months I would read the same book over and over again to one child or one class, until suddenly one day, the need was met and we could finally move onto another story. I had one class totally addicted to the Berenstein Bears ‘The Spooky Old Tree’. We read it for 6 months before the thrill of the fear wore off!

A number of years ago I had a big move to look forward to. I had to let go some of my books. So I decided to reread some of them to see if they were staying with me or being left behind.

During my 20’s there were quite a few books that felt highly significant and personal. I was curious to see if they still had the same impact in my 30’s. I was terribly disappointed to realise that the answer was a resounding no. A decade later, those oh so life-changing books seemed trite and irrelevant. The need had been met.

Two of these books were Frank Moorhouse’s Grand Days and Dark Palace. In my 20’s Edith was my hero. But in my 30’s she was just annoying!

Last month the final book in the Edith trilogy was released – Cold Light. I told Stephanie, the Random House rep, my tale about rereading the first 2 books. She insisted I try again now that I’m in my 40’s.

And I’m so glad I did. This is historical fiction at its best. Rich, entertaining and informative. Edith was no longer my hero or annoying. She was, and is, a fascinating character – full of complexities, quirks and insecurities. The books show her maturing and mellowing with time and experience. She learns that the idealism of youth needs to be tempered by the practicalities of real life and she learns the difference between what she would like to happen and what she can actually achieve. Much like the story itself of the League of Nations and the UN.

We reread books for many different reasons, but perhaps the main one is to discover the story anew, with more experienced eyes. To read the story at another level. We not only see the characters anew, but we see our own growth and maturity as well.

Happy (re)reading!

Bronwyn

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About braysbooksblog

Independent booksellers since 1969.
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