Why we need to revisit books

This morning I went for a drive with my husband. Some of my best conversations happen in cars. My family has told me that at home I am very distracted. I completely agree with them. I spend my time at home, paying attention to everything going on in the house, and interacting with every event that happens near me.

On our ride this morning, we began talking about books. We talked about how books seem different the second time you read them. And I have put a lot of thought into this since I am an inveterate rereader. For example, I have read Jane Eyre once a year for the last twenty years.

I talked about my theory about rereading books and why the books seem to change. When I first read a book, I am reading it through a lens of expectation. Whether that expectation comes from the blurb on the cover or inner flap; or a review I read or a recommendation from someone I know. When I begin reading this information about the book colors my perceptions. 

When I go back a second time, it is usually with a need to reconnect to some part of the story. Sometimes I want to feel the way I did when a character falls in love, finds out a truth, or overcomes some obstacles in their path. Whatever the reason I am rereading the book, it is to recapture something from the story. 

Long ago, I read about fairytales and the significance they play in children’s lives. The author talked about reading the same fairytale to a child throughout their childhood. It had to be the same telling of the story and not changed in any way, essentially, rereading the same book. The author used Hansel and Gretel as an example. The young girl on first hearing the tale perceives the story one way. She may see the older brother as guiding Gretel through the witch’s harsh treatment and his sacrifice of himself to somehow save Gretel. As she gets older, she may see other things. One of those things is that she may perceive how Gretel works for their escape, and her killing of the witch frees her brother. Gretel has become the hero of the story.

As our conversation went on, I talked about why my favorite book was the Razor’s Edge by Maugham. I talked about how I connected with Larry even before I knew to put the name of PTSD to my behaviors and feelings. Larry went out into the world and found ways to live and overcome WWI’s trauma that he had experienced and how I had translated those things into my forward growth. I also went out into the world and found the places and people that enabled me to heal rather than staying where I was.

Every time I reread a book, I am coming at it from a new place, with new lenses of interest and expectation. I have never understood why some people won’t reread books. If I enjoyed the book and learned from it the first time, then there is probably more for me to get from the book a second time. I am also a firm believer that most of the stuff I find in books is not because it is placed there by the author. Like everything else, I genuinely believe that we find what we are looking for and not necessarily what the author puts there. I may not see the things in the painting that the artist intended, but I see what my heart and mind needs to see. 

And so to end this ramble on books and rereading, I want to say that books have repeatedly saved my life and my heart. And if you haven’t considered going back and looking at books that influenced you, maybe you should reconsider looking up old friends and adventures from the past.

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