I have a bad habit of latching on to books that have had a great impact on me. There are shelves of books in my bedroom that I’ve read at least once, most of them three times or more. I also have a bookcase full of books I’ve never read, and time and time again, I’ll be looking for a book to read and will wind up cracking open a book with a worn spine and creased pages rather than one of the shiny new ones that haven’t left their shelf since the day I bought them—some weeks, some years ago.
It doesn’t make much sense, to keep re-reading books. The entire point of a story is to get caught up in the plot and experience the characters’ story as if living it for yourself. So it seems contradictory that a book could be enjoyable when nothing is surprising anymore. For some chronic re-readers, it might be the case that they don’t like surprises and enjoy the familiarity and comfort of a story they know from beginning to end. This is anything but true for me, being about as spoiler-phobic as they come. If I’m behind on a show, I avoid and/or threaten any friends that are ahead of me, and avoid any spoiler havens like Twitter. I hate having surprises ruined for me.
Another excuse I often hear people say to justify re-reading is that they find new aspects of the text and notice literary tricks like foreshadowing or other subtle things that are difficult to notice the first time around. This one isn’t quite true for me either, since I’ve never been all that good at noticing that kind of thing, even the second or third time around. I know enough about literary techniques to write an essay or two, but in casual reading, I never even think to look at the technique.
I re-read books in part because I’m lazy. I already know the characters and their names, already have an image created for things in my head, and if I fall asleep reading before bed, it doesn’t matter if I don’t remember where I left off because I’ve already read the whole thing. Researching, and then finding/buying new books can be so much effort, especially if, like me, you will sometimes have a craving for a very specific kind of story as you would for a certain food. It’s easier to just pick up something that you already know will do the job rather than sifting through Amazon reviews or bookshelves at the library.
I like to get invested in stories that I read and I leave books behind with entire worlds built in their absence. It’s the same reason why fanfiction is so fun for me to read, and why if I’m not busy re-reading, I’ll often be found reading fan works of those same books. The world becomes too real for me to leave it behind, and I have to keep returning to it in different times and places to satisfy the feeling of attachment and addiction that reading it manifested.
For the same reason that some poems and songs stay with us, and are easy to recite or we know every word many years later, while others fade and disappear the moment the page is turned or the last chord fades away, some books leave a lasting impression that is difficult to ignore. For avid readers, books can fit into one’s life like memories themselves, taking up as much space as any other moment of time. Maybe the best reason to leave behind the old and read something new is the potential to find the next big one, the next book that you’ll never forget having read.
Rebecca Nelson is a sophomore studying Biological Sciences at the University of Connecticut. She is on the fiction panel of Long River Review.