I’m not usually one to make resolutions, but this one is as good as any, I suppose: I want to reread.
Like many of you, I get caught up in the latest literary trends. I watch National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize lists like a hawk, always waiting for the next bestseller. I’m a huge fan of young adult literature, and will read almost anything I see my students pick up. I’m very picky about what I read, too; if a book hasn’t captured me after fifty pages, I’m done. This all can make for a sort of stressful library and bookstore experience, probably because I expect each book I read to be my new favorite.
Recently, I’ve given up trying to find new things. I read a couple of modern novels that were good but not great, and subsequently found myself choosing books at the library I had already read. Back at home, I retreated to the confines of my own bookshelf. Now that I’ve started rereading, I can’t stop.
If you’re not a rereader, allow me to wax poetic about why I like it for a moment. Rereading does wonders for understanding. The first time through a book, I’m focused primarily on story and character. What’s happening? Who is doing what? Why? But the second time through, I start to notice the author’s craft. She dropped a hint in chapter two that completely affects the end of the story! Those characters had a really confusing conversation on page 102 that I skimmed because it didn’t seem important, but now I see the whole plan started there!
I also start to notice an author’s writing style much more when I reread. It often doesn’t jump out the first time, but once I have the story down, I can pay more attention to how it’s told.
(These first two reasons I reread have been hugely apparent in my current rereading of the Harry Potter series (cliché, I know, but it’s still good the fifth time through). Rowling is the queen of sneaky foreshadowing, and I’ve noticed she uses the word “considerable” more than any human should.)
But my favorite thing about rereading is noticing myself. As Forester says, the books that affect and change us the most are “those for which we are ready.” It’s likely that twelve-year-old you just isn’t ready for the message Little Women has to share. A Wrinkle in Time is a super cool sci-fi adventure story when you’re ten and a well-written sci-fi adventure story when you’re fifteen, but it’s a masterful story of love and grace that makes you tear up when you’re twenty.
My favorite example of the power of rereading, and the inspiration for making it my resolution, is my own experience with the graphic novel Blankets by Craig Thompson. I first read it as a freshman in college. I thought it was awesome. I had just discovered graphic novels, and was geeking out with all of the classics of the genre. Blankets was my favorite because I loved the art style, the setting (a long Midwestern winter) was familiar, and the characters were young and relatable. But did I really understand the characters’ situation? Looking back, not really. The story is semi-autobiographical, following Thompson through childhood, church, and college. Much of the story centers on a relationship he had with a girl. Sure, I had been a kid once, I’d spent a lot of time in church, and I was now in college. But freshman me had never dated, never had much more than a crush. The love story Thompson told was intriguing but unfamiliar.
I read the book again as a junior in preparation for Calvin’s Festival of Faith and Writing. Thompson was coming to speak, and as a member of the student committee, I had been assigned (okay, okay, I asked) to pick him up from the airport and shepherd him around campus. Blankets was a whole new story this time around. I was dating someone at the time, and we had actually spent a fair amount of time walking around in the snow together, as Thompson does in the book. It was like he’d written the book for me. As he signed my copy that weekend, I made a little comment I’d rehearsed, something about how reading his book at different moments in my life had really changed the meaning of it, and how Blankets was the first book I’d experienced like that. His response is the only thing I remember about him from that weekend: “I’m glad you’re not the same person you were.”
I read Blankets again post-breakup. It doesn’t end well. It fit like a glove.
Last month, I finished a fourth reading. Newly graduated and in a new relationship, it still strikes a chord. The chord sounds a little different—less jaded and sweeter but less sappy—and I’m really glad. Glad to know I’ve changed and glad that a book has changed with me.
This year, I plan to reread. Childhood favorites, high-school obsessions, college-assigned tomes—I’ll try them all. They all, I trust, will have changed. Or, more accurately, I will have.
Abby Zwart (’13) teaches high school English in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She spends her free time making lists of books she should read, cooking, and managing the post calvin.