Rereading meme

I love to reread books every bit as much as I love to read new ones; sometimes, more. This is something I've thought a lot about. There are a bunch of different reasons why I love to reread. Here are some:

1. Necessity. I don't own very many books. I have never owned very many books. It has always felt wrong to me to buy books when there are free public libraries in the world. But I can't always get to the library when I need to, so there are times when my only reading choices are books I already own, and I've already read most of them. Not reading: not an option.

2. Comfort. Times when I'm tired, stressed, sick, unhappy. Reading a book I've read fifty times before is like visiting an old friend. There are no surprises. I know Jo isn't going to marry Laurie. This is the same reason why toddlers want to hear the same story over and over. They've mastered it, and it feels good to be in charge of it, especially when the rest of life is sometimes scary and unpredictable.

3. Because I didn't get it the first time. This is a huge reason to reread. I am a very fast reader. Too fast. Especially the first time around, I'm usually so desperate to know what's going to happen next that I miss the subtleties. Rereading, I can appreciate all that English major stuff like foreshadowing, symbolism, and so forth, that I just don't usually pick up on the first (or even second) time around. I also feel that the best gauge of a book's worth is the number of times it can be reread before it starts to pall. (The Secret History by Donna Tartt is one that comes to mind. I loved it so much the first time I read it, it was like she'd written it just for me. But I could barely finish it the second time. Toes-curlingly bad.)

4. Because I've changed. Sometimes I want to see if a book seems different now that I'm different. The first time I reread Little Women after becoming a mother, it felt like a whole new book.

Back to the meme. I'm not sure if I'm supposed to list books that I have reread or ones that I haven't but would like to. I think I've already mentioned the books I reread most obsessively in various posts, so I'll just list the latter. These are all titles I've thought about a lot over the years, but somehow never managed to reread.

Books by Otfried Preussler: The Robber Hotzenplotz, The Little Witch, The Little Water-sprite, and the first really scary book I ever read, The Satanic Mill. These, and the following, were books my dad the native German-speaker had read as a kid. I read them in translation, though. The Robber Hotzenplotz was one of the best books ever, with perfect illustrations, too. Very German, very Grimms-ish, but funny, too. I learned the word "gherkin" from this book.

The Little Man, by Eric Kästner, which I mentioned briefly in my post about Lisa and Lottie. There was this one scene that haunts me to this day. The little (2-inch tall) man dreams he is normal-sized. He's all excited until he realizes that his talents (he's a circus performer) would be meaningless in a normal-sized person, because everyone can do those things. He's only special because he's so tiny, but all he wants is to be big. SO poignant.

The Young Unicorns, by Madeleine L'Engle. Actually, I'd like to reread all the books about the Austin family, but that one particularly. I don't need to list the Wrinkle in Time series because I have reread them many times.

Swallows & Amazons, and all those other books about British kids and boats by Arthur Ransome. I believe these have been made into a tv show, but I haven't seen it. When I was in sixth grade our grumpy old school librarian who nevertheless had a soft spot for Youthful Bookworm turned me on to these. I didn't understand half of what they were talking about, but I loved them anyway. I don't understand Patrick O'Brian either, but I will never tire of his books. I just have a thing about sea stories, I guess. I learned the word "archipelago" from these books.

Skating Shoes by Noel Streatfeild. The library still has this one, and I've got it on hold. Circus Shoes would have been on this list, too, except that I just reread it, finally, a few days ago.

* * *

OK, so I finally reread Circus Shoes, and it was SO GOOD. I actually liked it quite a bit better than Ballet Shoes, which I had reread once or twice since childhood. For one thing, Circus Shoes really is about the circus, whereas Ballet Shoes is more about acting than it is dancing. You get very little actual detail about Posy and her special classes. Mostly you have to infer how good she is by her egoistic behavior. What I really liked about Circus Shoes is the way the kids, especially Peter, learn and grow through their experiences. They start out as these somewhat spoiled, naive, snobby kids who gradually, and the key word is gradually, learn to be strong and tolerant and worldly. Their growth is realistic. It takes a while. They don't just have one illuminating experience that suddenly changes them. And when you're reading you feel the time passing, too. This is a problem I have with a lot of kids books. Stuff happens too quickly. And I don't just mean number of pages. I mean also psychologically.

And I have to say, I disagree with Guusje, who commented that Streatfeild shows her very Victorian views about class in this particular book. If anything, the book struck me as the opposite. The kids start out with these very Victorian views they've inherited from their awful aunt. But practically all their preconceived notions get turned upside down. They're amazed that Uncle Gus cooks and cleans for himself. They learn that it's not so bad to be descended from a gardener and a maid. They learn to cast aside their snobbery and become confident, independent young adults. Sure, there's some mildly sexist stuff, but considering the time & place it was written, I think it's not too bad. Certainly no worse than what you find in my beloved Narnia books ("battles are ugly when women fight;" Caspian can't even consider marrying a princess who squints and has freckles; etc.).

Rereading this book after so many years was really cool. I was surprised how many "oh yeah, I remember this" moments I had. I am itching to read the other books on my list. I think I'll make that my goal for the summer, though some of them will be hard to track down. I'm also in the middle of Atonement, which I'm enjoying extremely.

Thanks, Melissa!


  • You're welcome, Julie. And now I've got a whole bunch of books to add to my "need to read" list. Thanks!

    posted by Blogger Melissa on 10:09 PM  

  • Ring of Endless Light is my Austin series re-read addiction. Young Unicorns is too dark? or something for my re-reading tastes, but I do love her descriptions of the Cathedral. I've always wanted to tour it when I've been in NYC, but never seem to make it there.

    posted by Blogger librarianpm on 12:02 AM  

  • I love your reasons for re-reading, especially the 'comfort' one - I reckon you hit the nail on the head with that...

    posted by Blogger Mummy/Crit on 5:49 AM  

  • What a terrific post! I am also a semi-speed reader who misses a lot of subtleties in my mad dash to get to the end of a book. And there are so many books on my bookshelves that I don't even remember, although I know that I've read them.

    posted by Blogger Suzanne on 8:43 AM  

  • I love re-reading. It makes me feel good, and I can't imagine not re-reading a book I've enjoyed. (And I know when I don't like one, because I have zero interest in going back to it.)

    I confess, I've actually re-read books just after I've finished them, because I enjoyed them so much that I don't want them to end.

    And I agree with Melissa, more book ideas! Hurray!

    posted by Blogger SuzanH on 10:13 PM  

  • I love to re-read a favorite book, but I rarely have the patience to re-watch a movie.

    posted by Blogger mrsd on 1:19 AM  

  • Wow. Mrsd, that is an interesting one...some movies I can re-watch (some I have no choice in...shrek, the lion king, sinbad...etc) but books, always, and I often start again immediately, to get the bits I missed before I got into it...

    I am currently re-reading a series of detective novels with a female Australian protagonist...there are around 15 of them...

    posted by Blogger Mummy/Crit on 8:14 AM  

  • I love re-reading. My shelves are full of books that I want to re-read. If I'm not gonna re-read it, out it goes!

    I'm still working on a Streatfeild post.

    My favorite of her "Shoes" books is Party Shoes, followed by Skating Shoes. But my favorite of all her books is When the Sirens Wailed. That's the one I'll post about later.

    posted by Blogger liz on 11:35 AM  

  • I mentioned to my mother-in-law (we're out in Spokane visiting them right now) your love of the "shoes" books, and lo and behold I'm the proud owner of Ballet Shoes, Theater Shoes and Dancing Shoes. All of which I'm excited to read (though I need to find Circus Shoes, right?) And to think a few weeks ago I would never have even considered reading them.

    posted by Blogger Melissa on 6:03 PM  

  • This one hit home....I find myseld re-reading books all the time.

    posted by Blogger midwest_hick on 10:28 PM  

  • Oh, I'm very late to this party, but The Young Unicorns is one of my very favorite re-reads.

    For me, the word "archipelago" will always belong to the Earthsea Trilogy.

    I wish I had more time for re-reading, these days. Mostly for reason #2. The books that qualify for reason #3 aren't even getting read through once -- maybe when the kids are older...

    posted by Blogger Phantom Scribbler on 10:54 PM  

  • Thanks for your comment on my blog, and pointing me to this post. I will have to give all the shoes books a try.

    On the "classist" discussion: Beyond the Vicarage is the only Streatfeild book I've read, but it's hard to get classist from her description of her life. Driving around to feed people in poor neighborhoods while bombs are falling? Yeah. If that's classist, more people should be so.

    posted by Blogger Veronica Mitchell on 10:09 AM