May 23, 2016

The Comfort of Rereading

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl: I must have read and reread it at least half a dozen times growing up. Maybe, dare I say, a dozen. Roald Dahl's books were perennial favorites for me, but especially this one and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. They meant so much to me, in fact, that I still haven't seen the most recent movies of either one because I don't want the books to be ruined. (The Gene Wilder movie, though: amazing.)

When I got a bit older—as a tween and teen—I found myself rereading a lot of my favorite Madeleine L'Engle books, in particular A Ring of Endless Light and A Swiftly Tilting Planet. And, though I cringe a little to admit it, I also reread several favorite Sweet Valley High books. (Rereading Sweet Valley High was not only a guilty pleasure but also provided the slight satisfying twinge of schadenfreude resulting from watching them do crazy things I'd never do and suffering the consequences.)

I was actually kind of a reading and rereading machine as a youth. And in retrospect, not only did I reread books simply because I loved them, I also turned to familiar reads when I needed comfort. My parents were divorced, and I regularly spent fairly long stretches of time at my dad's house over the summer and on weekends. If I was upset or missed my mom or was just plain bored, I would draw or read, and often I'd pick up something I'd read before, picturing myself as James finding the giant peach that allowed him to escape the nasty Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker and traverse the world with his new insectile friends who appreciated him for who he was.

As an adult, it's harder to find time or justification to reread books. As a writer, being widely read is encouraged, and between reading broadly and reading deeply within one's own genre, that doesn't leave a lot of room for old favorites. Despite that, I've managed a few rereads in recent years. I "needed" to reread The Winner's Curse and The Winner's Crime to properly appreciate Book 3, for instance. But this past week I found myself rereading purely for comfort for the first time in a long time. Under a lot of stress, and feeling rather unenthusiastic about reading anything that might even remotely remind me of the writing I'm currently failing to do, I flipped through my Kindle books and landed on a newer classic: the Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce. Determined, spunky girl with sword works hard, then harder; Alanna is truly special, one of a kind, not like the others around her but nevertheless loved and respected for her abilities, her loyalty, and her diligence.

If you know me, you'll know I have trouble resisting the urge to be an armchair psychologist. (A BA in Psychology only earns you an armchair; you need a Ph.D. to get that fancy chaise longue.) But anyway, I can't help reading something into my choices of books that I returned to over and over. In childhood, it's easy to see simple escapism in my selections. Later, I liked reading about characters who were underappreciated and yet special, learning over time to master their skills and prevail. That hasn't changed, clearly—and it probably says something about me and how I see myself. It probably says a lot about how I wish I could be, just as rereading James and the Giant Peach was a reflection of a wish: a wish for escape, for empowerment, for rescue from a situation in which I felt helpless. Maybe now, rereading the books about the kingdom of Tortall, I'm feeling a similar desire to escape from what feels like a lot of externally imposed obligations, just as Alanna was escaping from her predetermined life in the convent by disguising herself as a boy and training to be a knight.

Or maybe I just wish I could hit things with a sword…

What are your favorite rereads? What books could you read over and over and never get sick of? I want to know!


Jen Robinson said...

Oh, Sarah, we are such kindred spirits. Which I knew, but this post reminds me. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was one of my re-reads as a kid - I even learned to type by copying it.

Today, I have some Zilpha Keately Snyder books that I still re-read - the Velvet Room and the Changeling especially. Pride and Prejudice. And, oddly, Stephen King's The Stand (my first post-apocalypse, I guess). I also used to re-read books by Georgette Heyer and D.E. Stevenson, though I haven't been able to find the time for those in a while. Oh, and Elizabeth Enright's Gone-Away Lake books - I practically know those by heart.

Thanks for making me think about these favorites on a Monday morning.

Sarah Stevenson said...

I'm so glad you stopped by to leave a comment, Jen! Zilpha Keatley Snyder's books were great--I loved The Egypt Game and The Headless Cupid. I should have also included Diana Wynne Jones...

Jen Robinson said...

Diana Wynne Jones I didn't discover until I was an adult. But I read absolutely everything ZKS published. :-)

Julia Gomez said...

I've honestly only reread one book in my whole life, and that book was The Diary of a Wimpy Kid in 2nd grade. I was bored so I picked that book up again. But recently my tbr pile has gone out of hand, and I feel as if I'm wasting my time by reading the same book twice when I have so many books to read!

But reading this post, I think I may reread a book soon!