Guilty pleasures... We all have them, right? From snooping through your colleagues’ photos on Instagram and ordering takeout when there’s food in the cupboards, to binging on boxsets when there’s work to be done. These quirks of behaviour are harmless, but ones that we often hesitate to admit out loud.
But what does a guilty pleasure look like if you’re a book addict? For many, it’s probably that teetering TBR stack; a week’s worth of wages in paper and ink form that you really should stop building and start reading instead. For others, it’s splashing out on newly released hardbacks or special edition books.
So what about rereading? A recent report by teacher resource organisation, Renaissance Learning, argued that high school students who reread the same books again and again are at risk of falling behind in their reading, compared to their peers who continue to advance to more ‘grown up’ books. But is academic and personal development really as simple as always striving for the next level up? It goes without saying that as children get older, they should be encouraged to take on more challenges, but is revisiting beloved books really so terrible? Should rereading be considered a guilty pleasure? Here’s our take on the pros and cons.
There’s nothing quite as comforting as the joy of returning to something you know and love. Humans are creatures of habit, finding reassurance in familiar things. Rereading is the perfect example. It’s a nostalgic experience that can bring fond memories rushing back, and those same pleasurable feelings from when you read the book before. It can transport you to your family’s cozy living room if you’re homesick at college or banish loneliness by putting you back amongst old friends. For those of us who’ve maxed out our mental capacity with busy jobs and school work and the pressures of life in general, rereading offers an easy way to relax, escape and be entertained without having to keep thinking. Rereading for comfort is a type of therapy, and goodness knows that sometimes we could all use that.
Choosing a new book to read can be a challenge. We’re asked to invest a considerable amount of our time, money and emotions but there’s no guarantee we’ll like what we get. Venturing into the unknown can be an anxious time for some of us, too. Rereading takes that risk away. You know what you’re going to get – and you already know you like it – which can make for a far more enjoyable reading experience. That feeling of being on solid ground is a simple way to give your heart and your mind a breather, and can even drag you out of a reading slump, leaving you refreshed for the next new book.
The first time you read a book you find exciting, it’s tempting to rip through at breakneck speed. Rereads allow you to kick back and enjoy the scenery, to take in the details of the plot, the characters and the writing that you may have missed in your haste first time. You can search for planted clues and savour the calmer moments of beauty as well as the high drama, and it can help you move from understanding what happened, to why it happened, (and even to the effect of that happening on you, the reader) and you’ll be rewarded with the sense of accomplishment this brings.
Rereading is an act of self-reflection, a way to see how you’ve grown on a personal level by measuring yourself against something constant. To see how your reactions have changed, which books or passages you respond to differently now and in what ways, can teach you about how you used to view the world and reinforce and solidify your current sense of self. It can help you look at the challenges you’ve overcome and give you the strength to face the future, as much as make you nostalgic for the past.
Reading a book takes a significant amount of time – far more than watching a movie. Rereading takes even more time. Is there anyone out there who’s not strapped for time? There are already more books in existence that you could ever hope to get to, so why would you waste those precious hours on something you’ve already read, rather than discovering something fresh, exciting and new?
There’s a certain magic that comes from reading that can only ever be experienced first time: the gasp-inducing shock of a plot twist, the grief at the unexpected death of a character, the elation at that moment they finally admit to each other they’re in love. Rereading dulls your emotions and the pleasure of the reading experience is lessened because of it. Without suspense, what is there to keep you turning the pages with any real will?
Rereading can tempt us away from learning something new, expanding our horizons and world view, and developing our empathy. We know what we like and we like what we know, but we’re not only denying ourselves the opportunity for fantastic new reading experiences, we could be denying ourselves the opportunity to grow personally, too. Rereading doesn’t always lead to a deeper understanding of a book, either. On the contrary, it can lead to a more passive reading experience. When we know what to expect, we can slip into seeing what we want to see within the pages, to feeling what we expect to feel as we felt it before, rather than being critical. Rereading can make us think less, not more.
People change – we all know that – but there’s nothing wrong with wanting to preserve a special memory as it is. It’s natural to put some books on a pedestal because of how they made us feel for having read them at a certain point in our lives, and we know that to revisit them now, older and wiser, would be to risk having that memory skewed. For those books most treasured, rereading is to risk breaking them, and something perfectly reasonable to want left alone.
As with everything to do with reading, and with books in general, value is subjective. Every reader has a different relationship to every book they read, with none less valid than the rest. What a rereader loses in suspense, they may gain in understanding. What they gain in comfort may be worth missing out on the ‘next big thing’. For those high school students who are allegedly at risk of falling behind, we’d argue the data is far too short sighted. They’re reading for pleasure – and that’s the most important thing in harbouring a love of literature and learning – and they’ll naturally move on to new material in time.
The buzzword – as with everything in life – is balance. Neglecting that towering TBR or failing to move on to books that may provide an intellectual challenge but exhaust you, are not concerns worth feeling guilty for. If you’re enjoying books, in whatever form that take, we’ll celebrate that.