Confessions of a Re-Reader
My name is Kelly and I’m a re-reader. I read the same books over and over again--some books I read once every year--and I love it. My husband doesn't understand this. He is always reading something new. Sometimes he sees me re-reading a book and rolls his eyes a bit. He has so many questions and protests.
But there are so many new books and so little time!
True. And I read plenty of new books, too. I love tumbling head-first into a brand new book. But I believe there’s also a deep magic in reading a book again for the second, or third, or tenth time. Sometimes re-reading is medicinal; it can help heal things in my heart. I reach for old, beloved books that are tried-and-true at those times, and turn to new, unread books when I'm ready to be swept away. And finite time on Earth doesn't factor into my decision. I already know it is impossible for me to read every book in the world before I die, and I don't want to try. I want to read books that challenge me, that comfort me, that surprise me, that make me laugh, or cry, that touch some inner part of me. Sometimes I want to read those books twice.
But you already know what’s going to happen!
Yes. But knowing exactly what’s going to happen only amplifies the tension for me. Knowing that Jo is going to refuse Laurie doesn’t make it any less painful when it happens. (Damn you, Louisa!) In a strange way, I sometimes find myself so invested in the story that despite knowing better I'll begin to believe that something could turn out differently this time. The emotional resonance of a story well-told is sustaining.
I don’t have the patience for that!
Then you’re missing out. Here’s the thing: the book is always the same. The words on the page are the same words, and in some books they are as familiar as my own heartbeat. I call these my comfort books. I reach for them again and again and they fill up all my hollow spots. The books are always the same, and the characters make the same choices, and the stories have the same endings, but I am the one who has changed. The best way to describe it is to quote a passage from Catcher in the Rye in which Holden describes going to the Museum of Natural History over and over:
The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody'd move. You could go there a hundred thousand times, and that Eskimo would still be just finished catching those two fish, the birds would still be on their way south, the deers would still be drinking out of that water hole, with their pretty antlers and they're pretty, skinny legs, and that squaw with the naked bosom would still be weaving that same blanket. Nobody's be different. The only thing that would be different would be you. Not that you'd be so much older or anything. It wouldn't be that, exactly. You'd just be different, that's all. You'd have an overcoat this time. Or the kid that was your partner in line the last time had got scarlet fever and you'd have a new partner. Or you'd have a substitute taking the class, instead of Miss Aigletinger. Or you'd heard your mother and father having a terrific fight in the bathroom. Or you'd just passed by one of those puddles in the street with gasoline rainbows in them. I mean you'd be different in some way—I can't explain what I mean. And even if I could, I'm not sure I'd feel like it.
—J.D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye
Do you like to re-read books too, or do you always pursue new books? If you like to re-read, which books and why?