The Perils of Re-Reading
Ah Nostalgia! That fickle emotion, which prompts people to do crazy things. Things like complaining that the Millennials have fucked up the country, when actually you—baby boomers– were in charge of it when everything went to shit. Things like revisiting your alma mater with your college roommate and then overhearing a couple of punk ass children college students call you “old losers” and
coming very close to fantasizing about punching them in the face. (Or is that just me? Yes? Okay.)
And things like re-reading books from the recent or distant past.
Now sometimes this is a great experience. Sometimes the experience of re-reading a book from my adolescence has shown me how much I’ve learned and grown as a person. It’s revealed things in the text that I missed the first time around.
Re-reading The Poisonwood Bible, for example, and knowing much more about world politics than I did in high school when I read it the first time, I see the effect of colonization as well as the individual journeys of the characters. It turns out that To Kill a Mockingbird and The Catcher in the Rye are actually interesting when not over analyzed by a cranky woman six months away from retirement. And a recent return visit to Hogwarts revealed an ocean of untapped love for Molly Weasley and a new-found empathy with Professor McGonagall.
So sometimes re-reading books is a wonderful trip down memory lane. Time travel without the risk of disrupting the space time continuum. A reminder that you are wiser and generally more awesome than you once were.
Sometimes re-reading a childhood favorite reveals a totally blatantly obvious not even a little bit subtle religious metaphor that your innocent young mind missed– because magic and talking lions and shit — and now that you see it you wonder if you have to change your whole opinion about the series because it’s selling an ideology that you have some big ass problems with.
Yup. I’m looking at you—Chronicles of Narnia.
And sometimes you find out that the authors of your favorite books were actually terrible people who did TERRIBLE THINGS and you have to wrestle with the fact that this totally changes your perception of those books, and is it okay for you to still love what they were to you when you needed them and how they affected you in positive ways in the wake of learning facts that would prevent the you of today from ever picking up those same books in the first place.
And sometimes you realize that what you thought was super romantic in high school was actually kind of rapey and generally not okay even if there were, like, telepathic dragons involved. Wah Wah.
*gives Dragonriders of Pern the side eye*
And sometimes you go and learn a bunch of stuff about race and social justice and then you realize that those books you thought presented people of color in “a historical context” are actually, like, straight up racist.
Oh hey, Gone With the Wind. Plus you qualify for that one up there also. So that’s TWO problematic points for you.
And sometimes you realize that a series really should have ended about 4 books earlier than it did, before the main character lost all her spunkiness and became all about gossip and having babies and not doing anything interesting anymore. And it makes you want to cry because you LOVE this main character and you remember loving her MOAR when you were younger and as much as you hate the whole ‘getting married is the end of the story’ thing you wish that if she couldn’t continue being quirky and awesome into adulthood that it would have ended when they got married so you didn’t have to suffer through her becoming a SUPER BORING and TOTALLY unoriginal adult.
WHY ANNE SHIRLEY? WHY?! (seriously– stop after Anne of Windy Poplars and skip right to Rilla of Ingleside because the three books in-between are BORING)
And sometimes, people….FUCKING SOMETIMES you want to punch Ma in the face for constantly making Laura feel bad about being who she is and telling her to be more like Mary and guilting her into giving her candy to Carrie. And how when the neighbor girl visits and wants to take Laura’s doll home and Ma is all like “you’re a big girl Laura, you don’t need Charlotte any more so you should just give it to her” and so she does even though it breaks her heart because she LOVES Charlotte and then she finds her precious doll that she took such loving care of DESTROYED BY THE SIDE OF A POND. But good girls are selfless and endlessly giving and can’t have anything ever. Including pretty much the only real toy Laura ever had in her life that some fucking brat ruined and then threw away.
Seriously, Ma Ingalls —Bite Me. You’re the ACTUAL WORST. Also you’re totally racist. Just sayin.
Picking up any book is a bit of a risk, but when re-reading a book that held special meaning for you the risk is ten fold. Maybe you’ll love it even more, find more to discover, more insights into the world.
Or maybe it will ruin your childhood. You just never know.
What do you think? What good and bad re-reading experiences have you had?