Earlier this year I reread The Handmaid’s Tale in preparation for the miniseries based on this story that is coming out next week. Stay tuned! I am planning to blog about that series after I’ve seen it, but today I’ll be talking about rereading books in general.
Over the last few years I’ve also reread:
- The Earth’s Children series
- The Anne of Green Gables series
- The Harry Potter series
Yes, I’ve read these stories so many times that I know every plot twist by heart. I’ve even been known to quote my favourite passages from them to my spouse when he least expects it.
There are a few different reasons why I occasionally like to go back and revisit these tales despite the fact that there are many new books left on my to-read list.
Reason #1: I Already Know I’ll Like the Story.
Several months ago, I started reading something that I was fully expecting to love. The blurb was amazing, the reviews of it were really good, and I’d spoken to someone else who’d read it and thought it was wonderful.
Imagine how surprised I was when I could barely make it through the first scene. Not only was the main character written in a stereotypical manner, the narrator seemed more interested in describing what her body looked like than why she woke up in a world that had shifted from being completely ordinary to not making any sense at all.
I was disappointed. Rather than getting sucked into the story, I quietly closed the file and went looking for something else to read.
The nice thing about returning to old favourites is that I already know what I think of them. If they have flaws, I’ve already weighed them against the storyline and decided that they aren’t serious enough to destroy my warm feelings about the characters or plot in general.
Most of the books I read are still new to me, but sometimes it is really nice to be guaranteed a satisfying read.
Reason #2: I Don’t Always Identify with the Same Character.
I thought Marilla was a stuffy, old grouch the first dozen times I read Anne of Green Gables. Many of the rules she expected Anne to follow didn’t make sense to me, and I thought she was far too strict with the girl in general. The last time I read it, I was surprised by how much I empathized with her.
I am nowhere near Marilla’s age, but I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to suddenly become the permanent legal guardian of a rambunctious preteen who has never known a stable home life, has limited respect for social conventions, and pushes back against almost every boundary you try to set with her.
At least I have memories from a good childhood and a nephew who is close to Anne’s age. Marilla didn’t have any experience with children at all when she first met Anne, and the bits and pieces of her upbringing we later learn about make it sound strict and dreary. Nobody gave her warmth or affection at that age. All she had ever known was duty and hard farm work, and yet somehow she was expected to look after a young girl who was starving for affection.
All of these details make the strong, loving bond she eventually forges with Anne even more remarkable than I remembered it being.
Reason #3: I Know I’ll Find Something New in Them Every Time
Reading the same book again is like walking down your favourite trail and noticing small differences in the landscape this time. It was nowhere near this beautiful – and possibly photoshopped?! – but when I was a kid I used to love to walk down short mountain trails and find plants I hadn’t noticed before.
No matter how many times my family had previously walked down those paths, there was always some kind of flower or shrub that I’d missed the last time. Had they not been in season on our last visit, or was I looking elsewhere then?
I don’t know, but last winter I reread my favourite book in the Earth’s Children series,The Valley of Horses. The Clan of the Cave Bear, the first book in that series, was full of difficult – and even traumatic – experiences for Ayla, the main character.
What I enjoy the most about The Valley of Horses is how much time she has to reflect on all of the things she experienced after she was permanently banished from her adoptive tribe. There were periods of loneliness in those years she spent living alone, but all of that solitude did give her the opportunity to heal emotionally from the things that had happened to her.
One of the details of this story that I’d begun to forget was that Ayla survived pneumonia while she was living on her own. As someone who has had this disease before, I’m amazed at how well she did at looking after herself while she recovered.
Even the mildest form of pneumonia is a nasty illness. It sucks every ounce of energy out of your body no matter how many hours of the day you sleep, and the symptoms can last for weeks if you happen to be a character living in a time and place where antibiotics won’t exist for another 30,000 years or so. Something as simple as taking a bath or staying awake for more than a few hours at once is extremely difficult even if you’re lucky enough to have a prescription for antibiotics, a warm, safe house, and a fridge full of nutritious food that can be reheated easily.
I can’t imagine having to prepare and cook food, gather wood, keep a fire going, melt snow or ice for water, stay alert for any hint of danger that might be approaching your cave, and try to recover from this horrible disease all at the same time.
It’s something I’d overlooked in the past, but it makes me like Ayla even more now that I’m aware of what that experience must have been like for her.
How about you? How do you feel about rereading books? I’ll be on Twitter throughout the day, and I’d love to discuss it with you.