But not all re-reads bring such delight. I recently picked up To Kill A Mockingbird to re-read and found myself….bored. Not only was I bored with the reading experience, I didn’t feel any sense of hope or enjoyment out of the experience. If anything, I walked away from Lee’s classic wondering why it was such a beloved, widely-read book. Was it because it’s an easy, mostly-palatable examination of racism? Is it because we really enjoy being able to see the world through the construction of innocence Lee builds (and it’s constructed — she’s telling the story as an adult looking back at her youth, which is a detail easy to miss but vital to, I think, the endurance of the story and its message). Finishing this book didn’t put me on the “excited” side for Go Set A Watchman. I’m happy I re-read this one and reconsidered my feelings for it, as I was able to not only see the flaws in the story, but I was able to look at my own intellectual growth and see what does and doesn’t work for me. Idealism and idolization aren’t aspects of fiction I find endearing or enduring in my life. At least at this point.
Earlier this summer, I talked about how I planned on spending these few warm months catching up with back list titles and slowing down a bit to savor some classics I’ve missed out on. So far, it’s been a rousing success. One of the things I’d mentioned was finally getting around to Harry Potter. I should be fair: I’ve read the first four books in the series. It was back during the summer the final book came out, and I read it because I was working with teenagers who told me I needed to. And because of the circumstances under which I read it — a hot dorm room with no a/c or kitchen after long days in a hot classroom helped teach those same teenagers about Shakespeare — I never got the spark from them that I’d hoped to find.
I picked up the first three books last month at the bookstore and cannot wait to re-read them with my mind open and ready to be excited by them. Technically, half of the series is a re-read; the other half is a first read.
I’m finding that re-reading is bringing me to texts in a much different way now. After reading so much more and simply living much more, it’s interesting to see what things I take away on a new read and which things I don’t. I’m definitely motivated to revisit more books now and see what does and doesn’t work for me now, as compared to the person I was when I initially read it. I was recently told to revisit, of all things, Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, a book I never found myself quite enjoying like I hoped to. I was told now that I know about how the publishing world works, I’d appreciate it on a whole other level, and that sort of recommendation makes me excited about a re-read in a way I never anticipated.
And that’s the power of books — they grow with you, and like any relationship in your life, sometimes growing means becoming tighter and sometimes it means choosing to come to an amicable split.
Tell me: do you re-read? What books have you found to be immeasurably better upon re-read? Which have you found yourself disappointed in? What makes the difference to you?