I read the Little House on the Prairie Series again and again and again as a child. Without a doubt they were my favorite books. In the slim number of grade school years when I was old enough to devour chapter books and play pretend (2nd- 4th grade, I think) I would tuck these “guidebooks” under my arm and haul them out back with supplies to set up camp. A few blankets, an old table cloth and a few dress up clothes I considered “old-fashioned enough” to fill in for proper pioneer calico and lawn print dresses were put on and strung up so I could make camp. Opening the books I would shepherd my younger sisters, cousins, and neighbors through the various scenes I’d convince them to enact. I read, reread and role-played those stories until the book covers were weathered and the spines tattered, aching with overuse. I was sure nothing in the text could surprise me any more. I knew them by heart.
My daughter is at the right age for listening. So often in the afternoon, after kindergarten, the playground and lunch, we settle in to read. We’ve reread many of the classics of my childhood: Charlotte’s Web, Pippi Longstocking, and several Ramona books. A few months ago I pulled out the precious books about Laura and Mary and we dove in. She’s loved them just the way I’ve hoped she would; I catch her spontaneously in her own enactments from the book. I’m surprised her reaction is so close to my own so many years ago. However, I’m amazed how different my experience has been upon this rereading two decades since my last reading.
Without the rose-colored glasses of childhood that simplify and skim over context, I can’t miss it. Thick in the complexities and requirements of my own real life, I marvel at the reality written into these books, even though they aren’t the artifacts of nonfiction I once assumed as a child. (And yes, I am still on the long wait list to get a hold Laura’s grittier, true-life tale, Pioneer Girl.) I still identify with Laura as I read (Mary was entirely too good and long-suffering), but now I also put myself in Ma and Pa’s boots, wondering, how on earth did you manage when the grasshoppers came and devoured everything, when there was a bear in the cow’s pen and so many times when the situation seemed so desperate? I’m stunned not just at the story, but how Laura remembered so much of it, and how much of the story is in the context I passed over as a child.
I confess I have a short list of books, aside from children’s titles, that I have read and reread. Life seems short and there are so, so many books I still want to read, that I’ve felt it a sacrifice from the list of new-to-me books to return to something I’ve already been through. Yet, the fresh perspective and pleasure I’ve felt returning to books with my kids, is forcing me to rethink my thoughts on rereading. Here are a few thoughts that have helped me reconsider rereading:
“A good book is never the same twice.”- Hilary Mantel
“Rereading is therapy, despite the accompanying dash of guilt, and I find it strange that not everybody does it. Why wouldn’t you go back to something good? I return to these novels for the same reason I return to beer, or blankets or best friends.” – Tom Lamont, The Pleasures of Rereading
“We do not enjoy a story fully at first reading. Not till curiosity, the sheer narrative lust, has been given its sop and laid asleep, are we at leisure to savor the real beauties.”
– C.S. Lewis, On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature
“I do like people to read the books twice, because I write my novels about ideas which concern me deeply and I think are important, and therefore I want people to take them seriously. And to read it twice of course is taking it seriously.”
– William Golding
“…the reader who plucks a book from her shelf only once is as deprived as the listener who, after attending a single performance of a Beethoven symphony, never hears it again.”
-Anne Fadiman, Rereadings: Seventeen writers revisit books they love
“What we seek is often what we find; rereading can enlighten us about what we are looking for now and what we have sought in the past.
[E]very discovery, large and small, brings its own delights, reminding me over and over why I need not feel guilty over rereading instead of exploring new ground. Rereading is exploring new ground—new ground in familiar territory. By the criterion of pleasure, it ranks high; and its evocation of fresh meanings give it weight also as a source of instruction.” – On Rereading by Patricia Meyers Spacks
“When you re-read a classic you do not see in the book more than you did before. You see more in you than there was before.” –Clifton Fadiman
Perhaps rereading is not redundancy, and the stagnation I have often maligned it as, but part pleasure and a rereading of who I’ve become since I read the book last.
How about you, are you a rereader? What books do you reread if you do? Or why don’t you if you don’t?