While chatting with a group of friends about books we loved and what we were currently reading I mentioned going back and re-reading ones I’d already read. At this revelation I was met with looks of confusion and blank stares. They could not understand why I would read a book I’d already read. Surely I knew what was going to happen to why would I bother? Why not read a new book? Until this discussion I hadn’t really consider re-visiting books to be an odd thing to do, but it made me ponder why I kept so many books and why I would go back to them.
I guess you could say I have a handful, well more like a few ‘shelffuls’, of books that I reach for again and again. These are being just a few of them, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Beach by Alex Garland, The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, all of Sarah Winman‘s books and the one I’ve re-read the most, Emily Bronte’s, Wuthering Heights.
I first read The Beach as a sixteen year old eager to impress a boy who’d just read it and was raving about it to me. With that in mind I’d convinced myself that I had to love it so we’d have yet another thing in common. After all it was having the same taste and interests that made relationships so special, or at least that’s what my adolescent self though anyway. Boy or no boy, it quickly became a book that I would count as a fast favourite. I read it the same summer as the film featuring none other than Leonardo DiCaprio and while I thought the film was good it didn’t quite capture my perception of the characters or the descent into chaos that Garland so cleverly writes. Then again I would say that as I’m firmly in the ‘book is better than the film‘ camp. I did love the soundtrack though and would play it over and over like the obsessive teenager I was! I think I’ve read this book about four time now though I’ve not reached for it since turning thirty. I wonder if it’s a book that stands the test of time or how I’d read it now as a thirty something mum not a starry eyed teen with dreams of backpacking.
The God Of Small Things was a seminal book for me. Like The Beach, I read it as a teen and still living abroad in Armenia. Living in a country so alien to the one I grew up in definitely gave me an appreciation for other cultures and a huge interest in learning about them. This book is set in India and follows through generations of a family. There is such richness to the story and the way in which Roy crafts her characters is spellbinding. It is a wonderful book and one that has stayed with me all those years. I would say it had a huge impact on my thinking and the books that I would choose to read subsequently. Another author and fellow Booker Prize nominee and favourite of mine, Zadie Smith also has this capacity to create characters and lives that draw you in so completely.
The Night Circus is a book I have mentioned on this blog countless times now. I’ve read it twice and I know it will be a book I read again in a few more years. The enchanting world that Morgenstern creates is like nothing I’ve encountered before. It is spellbinding and so immersive. It’s a book that would lend itself so well to a film yet I worry whether any adaptation could truly do it justice.
Lastly, yet certainly not the least, is the classic novel, Wuthering Heights. I first read this at fifteen while studying it for my GCSEs. I’ll readily admit that it wasn’t love at first sight for me. I found it difficult to get into at first, it was full of brooding imagery and complex characters. Yet, as I unpicked the book, unraveled the imagery and got to know the characters I began to have a reverence for it. Emily Bronte’s use imagery is second to none and every time I read this book I enjoy it more and more.
It sounds rather silly to say, but cosying up with this book, well, it feels like spending time with an old friend. I read it in ebook form while breast feeding my youngest so I had something to do during those never ending night feeds. I can’t say I was won over from the feel of reading a physical book, but reading from a lit screen held in one hand was definitely more practical at that time. Nothing quite compares to a well worn book, especially one that’s been underlined and annotated!
I had a little chat on Instagram about re-reading books and it seems I’m not alone in returning back to old favourites again and again. I asked a few blogging friends to share the old favourites they reach for.
I’m going to go for Jane Eyre. It’s one of my favourite books to pull out and reread. I love the comfort of reading a book I know so well and yet I always see things I haven’t spotted before. I’m a hopeless romantic but the bleak setting, gothic drama and intrigue also appeals to me with Jane Eyre. I love that it is from Jane’s perspective as it makes it feel so true. I amazes me that a book written over 150 years old is so relatable to women now, it feels like coming back and reading about a friend. It’s beautifully written and will always be one of my favourites.
I try to re-read Lady Chatterley’s Lover annually. It’s such an important novel and has so much history behind it that I feel I sort of owe it to DH Lawrence to keep on reading it! I relate to Connie in many ways, and it opened my eyes as a teenager as only Lady Chatterley’s Lover can. It also possibly influenced my love of the Yorkshire accent and my marriage to a Yorkshire man!
My most favourite book of all time is The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans. I first read it when I was going through a tough time and really identified with the young girl in it. As I’ve got older I’ve revisited it time and time again, and I’m finding that now I’m identifying more with the mother of the young girl. I find something new in it every time I read it and the descriptions captivate me. It never fails to stir up all kinds of emotions in me.
The book that I’ve just revisited after 20 years – and am currently re-reading – is Wild Swans by Jung Chang. I can’t remember a piece of writing ever having such a profound effect on me (apart from maybe The Colour Purple; by Alice Walker). Wild Swans plots the lives of three generations of women, in China. Chang herself, her mother, and grandmother. It’s beautifully written and gives the most amazing insight into Chinese culture and history; everything from foot binding and concubines, to chairman Mao and the cultural revolution. It had me hooked after just a couple of pages and has stayed with me ever since. It’s lovely to go back and reread it – and be reminded of why I fell in love with it in the first place.
I found it fascinating thinking about the reasoning of why we go back to books we’ve read before. I’ve enjoyed a lot of books but there are some I wouldn’t read again. As you can tell, the books I’m drawn back to are those with a rich plot and depth of characters that often have me pondering about them afterwards as if they were real people. I’d rarely pick up a mystery or thriller to re-read, as once the plot conclusion that kept those pages turning is revealed I feel that sense of closure and completion. I think re-reading a book you love brings that sense of comfort and not to mention the fact that each time you read it you are reading it through a new lens, one of a different age and with differing experiences to the person you were before.
Are you a serial re-reader or does the thought fill you with horror?
If you’re a fellow re-reader what favourite to do you go back to?
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