On the Stressful Joy of Rereading Favorite Books
Three and a half years ago, I was in the zone with rereading books. I reread the whole To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before series by Jenny Han (in honor of the release of the first movie); I reread parts of Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series; I was rediscovering books I’d loved years before and finding that I still loved them.
Then came a new job, an overnight schedule, a deepening depression, and a years-long reading slump. It was all I could do to read new books I was anticipating, much less check in with past favorites.
I left off series in the middle, because by the time the final book came around, I’d completely forgotten everything that came before. I would either read a book all at once, over the course of five feverish nighttime hours on a day off, or it would take me months to make it through 200 pages; there was no middle ground.
For a long time, I gave up on rereading. “There are too many new books,” I told myself. My Netgalley shelf was overrun with books I need to get to. It was all I could do to read eARCs of upcoming books, much less indulge in something I was already familiar with.
What was the point of rereading, I wondered, too. I already knew the story!
Last fall, I read two books that made me rethink my position. First, I devoured Tracy Deonn’s Legendborn, finishing it literally without breath, my heart pounding, my eyes skimming over the pages so fast because I had to know how it would end, had to know what that final twist would be. I couldn’t even stop to take in the beauty of her words.
Then I read These Violent Delights, the bestselling debut by Chloe Gong, which had a similar effect on me. Both are the first book in their respective series, both tumble to a crescendo of emotions and words and oh shit, no she didn't! feelings. I knew from the moment I closed my Kindle on those first installments that I wouldn’t be able to continue in the series without refreshing my memory with a reread.
And then I was selected to be Chloe’s conversation partner for the Edelweiss BookFest, in early June, and I knew I had to read These Violent Delights again.
I pulled out my hardcover, stared at it for a good five minutes because it’s even more beautiful in person than it is online, before finally forcing myself to focus and open the book.
And I fell headfirst right back into the story.
There was something so different about reading the book again. I knew everything that was going to happen, but I was still on tenterhooks waiting for the reveals. The fact that I knew how Roma and Juliette’s story would conclude in the first book completely changed the way I viewed their every interaction leading up to pivotal moments.
It made the reading experience so much sweeter, because I would bump up against moments I remembered (and ones I’d forgotten) and get to experience them in light of the book’s ending.
It was sweet, and it was terrifying, and it was amazing.
I finished These Violent Delights and immediately set about reading the sequel (which I have just finished, and let me tell you, it is painful in the most delectable of ways, holy wow). And then I picked up my friend Auriane Desombre’s debut, I Think I Love You, which I read back in the summer of 2018, but was just published in March of this year, and started reading it again.
More time had passed between my reads of that book than Chloe’s debut, and of course bigger changes had been wrought on the story since I first read it, before it even sold to her editor, but the feelings were the same.
The thrill of remembrance when the story clicks in your brain once more; the joy of laughing at jokes you knew but had forgotten; the sweet, sweet discomfort when you know far more than the characters do, and you just want to jump into the pages, shake them, and scream at them that things are going to work out, or that the villain is actually this person, not that one!
I now have a list of books I want to reread. Some of them are standalones I just want to re-experience, like Emily X.R. Pan’s debut, The Astonishing Color of After, which left me breathless in 2018; some are series I need to dive back into so I can finish them (the Ember quartet, for sure). What they have in common is that I loved them the first time around, and I can’t wait to experience and love them again.
I recently signed up for the Literati book club, and my first book selection came with a bookmark sporting a C.S. Lewis quote that seems perfect for this piece: “To me, rereading my favorite books is like spending time with my best friends. I’d never be satisfied to limit myself to just one experience each with my favorite people.”
Same, Clive. Hard same.
To leave a comment