Have you ever been burned by a reread? I mean, have you ever read a beloved book again only to find its magic tarnished? I have. And I also have an irrational fear of not loving a book as much the second time through. And this fear often keeps me from rereading books that I adore. Because I am afraid to lose my love for them upon second reading.
There are so many books I’d like to read again, but am afraid to try them. You know how it is, right? You can never, ever reread it again for the first time. And chasing that first time book high in a book you’ve already read can lead to disappointment. Maybe that just means the book wasn’t that great to begin with. Valid point. But maybe I want it to stay that good in my reader heart.
I reread The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffeneger, which I adored the first time through. Adored enough that I was always recommending it and it hit my list of top faves. So, I thought this was a solid book for a second read. But guess what? Reading it again kind of ruined the book for me. I don’t think that it was the commentary I’d read about the problematic aspects of the book that bothered me. I still am not bothered by a lot of the hay made out of Claire and Henry’s relationship. Because it is fantasy. It is time travel. You always have to suspend disbelief and make allowances. But for some reason, the book just didn’t hit me the same way the second time through. It wasn’t as magical. It was good, but it didn’t excite me the way it had.
How a book hits is as much a function of you, your personality, your life, your environment, your circumstances, as it is the book itself. And truly transcendent books can hit you equally hard in totally different ways depending upon when you read them. This is probably why The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis is amazing every single time. I take something different from it upon each reread. But that book probably isn’t quite a fair bar, since it really is philosophy.
But here’s one that may make more sense: Pet Semetary by Stephen King. Transcendent isn’t a word often associated with King but hear me out. I first read this book in junior high and it terrified me. It terrified me again when I read it in college, similar to how it terrified me in junior high. But then, I reread it again just a few years ago. And WOAH YOU GUYS. Horrifying for different reasons. Why? Well, now I’m a parent. And that is a book that is actually all about the depth and terror of parental grief. While that narrative wasn’t totally lost on college me, it didn’t hit with full, awful, scary force until I was a parent. This is a damned good book that hasn’t ever let me down.
I am about to reread Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy again soon. I loved it in high school, I loved it multiple times in college and in law school. Will I love it now? I don’t know, but I hope it doesn’t let me down. This one has been tested and I relate to Benny’s struggles with confidence every time. And I’ve come to appreciate her more and more. We shall see what 40-something me thinks.
So, what are your tried and true rereads? The books you’ve read many times over and they never disappoint? Here are some more books that have withstood the reread test for me. The list is short because I don’t want to repeat The Time Traveler’s Wife:
House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune (extra points because I read it the second time so close to the first and still loved it)
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (I talk about this book and its impact on me way too often)
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (this book hit totally different in our current political climate)
The Shining by Stephen King (my absolute favorite of horror novels)
All of Harry Potter (yes you know who is a jerk. But Harry and Hermione and Ron never let me down)
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (again extra points for proximity of reread on this, but the characters are always great)