The pleasure of re-reading a book

Tracee: I re-read Agatha Christie’s Sleeping Murder this week. I remember reading it for the first time when I was in about 5th grade, which dovetails with the publication date, and I suspect it was a featured new book at the library. It scared me to the point that I had to stay up late and read under the covers in order to reach the resolution. (Okay, probably reading under the covers out of fright, and not because I would be in trouble for having the light on.) 

Rereading it, I had the same sense of compulsion to reach the end, and the same sense of unease. I suspect much of this is the result of a strong memory of my first reading. I often reread books, usually not in their entirely but in select favorite bits. However, it is never possible to reclaim the initial sense of wonder/excitement/fear – except with this book. Was it possibly my first ‘adult mystery”?

What is your experience of re-reading books. Is it ever the same as the first time?

Keenan: It depends on the book, of course, but I find new treasures on my subsequent reads. Now that I’m not carried away by the story, I can enjoy the structure and the prose more.

Pandemic cycles

Emilya: I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. It was going to be my next blog post! It seems that during the pandemic a lot of people turned to both rereading and rewatching. I think it totally has to do with reliving where you were when you read/watched the story first. There is a sense of comfort that comes with it that’s part knowing how it ends and, for me, seeing how the story foreshadows the ending. One author I’ve reread multiple times is Brett Easton Ellis. Something about how he writes and thinks really affects me. It’s the darkness… I relate to it. 

When I was a teenager I reread Bulgakov’s Master & Margarita multiple times. I reread again in my thirties and although I found it just as compelling, I also found it to be dated and chauvinistic in its portrayal of women. But with that off the table, it’s still a terribly interesting book. For reasons I still don’t understand, I used to reread Madame Bovary over and over. That’s one book that did not become dated because the character and desires of Emma Bovary, as well as her limitations, still ring true. And then there’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, which I’ve read at least twice. It’s about as perfect of a book as can be.

Classic favorites

Connie: Great question, Tracee! I reread favorite books all the time, just I like can’t go more than a year without watching Pride & Prejudice (the Colin First/Jennifer Ehle version) or White Christmas.

I agree with Emilya–rereading a favorite old book is a comforting thing to do in uncertain times, but I’ve been rereading The Wind in the Willows each year for many years. It reminds me of my childhood and the pure joy I discovered in books. Yes, I know exactly what Mr. Toad will get up to, but I never get tired of it. I also reread an Agatha Christie or two each year–like visiting an old friend. And I try to reread one of the classics of English literature. This year I read three–Three Men In a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome, My Man Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse, and Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. Recently I reread The Distant Hours by Kate Morton, not for nostalgia’s sake but simply because I can’t get enough of her gorgeous writing. 

Susan: I love rereading books and I find I usually enjoy it more the second time around because I’m not racing to figure out what happened. (I’m especially finding that with the books we read for the Edgars. I set aside some books that I wanted to have time to enjoy and I am.) I’m often rereading an Agatha Christie. Right now Murder at the Vicarage. And I try to reread a classic, which right now is Jane Eyre, though I’m listening to it on Audible and I love it because I’m paying more attention to the words.

Tracee: We are on the same wavelength… I’ve reread some of the Edgar’s submissions, delighted to go at a slower pace. And I am right now reading Murder at the Vicarage. Confession, it is the second half of a volume containing Sleeping Murder so it was a bit inevitable this week. 

A vote for Pride and Prejudice

Michele: I think I’ve posted about this before, but I reread Pride and Prejudice every spring. I do it because it is my favorite book. I also read it in honor of my high school English teacher, Danny Dwyer, who made a valiant attempt in my senior year to save me from myself. That didn’t work, unfortunately, because I didn’t listen to his sage advice. But he did leave me with a love of Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice. He died in a car accident a few years later. I thought of him then as wise and old, but he couldn’t have been much more than thirty.

I always discover something new when I reread P&P. I am never disappointed.

Tracee: I always love to hear about the high school English teachers who were so influential. . .  even though it sometimes took a few years for their wisdom to stick. I suspect I moaned and groaned about a few reading assignments and like you return to those same books year after year. 

Alexia: Re-reading books is never the same as the first read for me. For one thing, I can’t un-know how the story ends. That doesn’t mean re-reading is worse. Since I’m less caught up in how the story is going to turn out, I pay more attention to other things. Sometimes, the things I missed the first time around (usually when I was a kid) make me cringe re-reading them as an adult–a side effect of being fond of mysteries written in the 1930s and 40s. Sometimes, I notice subtleties that were lost on a younger me. Sometimes I re-read a book with the explicit intent of dissecting it to analyze its form and style. I can’t do that the first time around. I’m the same way with movies and TV shows.

Tracee: Thanks for weighing in everyone! What about the rest of you? Do you like to re-read old favorites? Is it tainted? Share your thoughts with us on Facebook or Twitter. And don’t forget to register to win this month’s giveaway- a set of Gethsemane Brown mysteries! – by lodging a comment here.

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