The art of re-reading

Written by Vita O’Brien

To look at a great painting twice or to watch a movie for the third, or fourth, sitting is something few would question. But to read a novel again? The incredulity. Here’s why giving your favourite tomes a second whirl is just the thing.

To know me is to know I will forever be the biggest fangirl of re-reading. However, at the start of this year, I wrote on my resolution list (right next to the obligatory ‘start actually taking care of body’) — read your unread books.

A noble plan, and one I promptly threw away when this all happened. I don’t think I’m alone in it, friends have been lamenting that they’ve too been finding it hard to read but so is being online and you can only bake so many loaves of banana bread before your fellow bubblers drag you from the kitchen begging you to stop. Re-reading it is then.

So, I turned to my very battered but well-loved copy of Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote. My logic being, if this book can get me through the nightmare that is high school it can get me through a global crisis. And, guess what. Holly still makes me want to give everything up and run away to New York with a ginger cat and hold wild parties in a cramped apartment. Which is such a ‘thank god’ moment but also made me think about why exactly I re-read with such a passion and I think it can be broken down into three main points.

No unexpected plot points

After you’ve read about (*spoiler alert* but also this book is old, so sorry not sorry) Holly throwing the cat out of the taxi for the 15th time, it doesn’t hurt so bad. In a similar vein, if you know you need a good cry then picking up a book that always makes you cry can be a safe way of getting that release. Same goes for any emotion you may need to feel right now. Angry? Read Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and scream with rage at Daisy. In the mood for a giggle? Read the poem, Monica, by Hera Lindsay Bird.

Recalling where you were the last time you read the story

As I said earlier, reading Breakfast at Tiffany’s brings me back to reading in the corner of my high-school library, but it also reminds me of being given a beautiful watch and Audrey Hepburn poster on my 16th birthday; writing a school report on it in our garage-turned-home office/ballet studio while wearing the electric blue jumper I used to wear all the time back then; buying two of my friends a copy each the summer after finishing school and how good that summer was spent with them; and getting tattoos with two other friends, one of whom got ‘wild thing’ inspired by our love for Holly. Beyond these memories, re-reading also lets me reflect on who I am today and how I got here.

Gaining new insight into the world of a story

Here’s the truth of the matter: you will never know everything there is to know about a book on your first read. There’s no way. Books can take years and years to write — they are labours of intense love and it would be presumptuous to assume that one pass over could give you everything there is to learn from that story. It is this, above everything else, that brings me back to the books I love. While the first read of a good book can be like like gobbling up a delicious meal, the second and third (and fourth and fifth, if you’re anything like me), lets you ponder over a certain chapter, pay attention to clever word choice and notice a little moment of foreshadowing that you wouldn’t have been able to spot the first time around. When I love a book, I want to know it and re-reading gives me just that. Characters become friends and settings begin to feel as familiar to me as my hometown.

At times in my life, I’ve felt guilty for reading the same books so often (see above reference to my 2020 resolutions), but I think the thing that I want to take away from this time of isolation, is that there is no right way to do anything. While some may use this time to learn a language or get abs and others will bake endlessly, work their normal job or do nothing — there is no right way to react to a global crisis. And there is no right way to live your life in 2020. So, I beg of you to read how you want to. Though I do recommend picking an old favourite if it takes your fancy, you might be surprised to see how much it can still teach you.

breakfast at tiffanys
the great gatsby

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