With hundreds of new titles published every week, re-reading books may seem like a bit of a foolish endeavour these days. But re-reading books – ones you loved, hated, or were simply puzzled by – can be an excellent exercise, one that helps you to better understand a text. Or, sometimes, even better understand yourself, as I’m afraid the following list may very well reveal. The Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday theme this week is ‘Books I Feel Differently About Now That Time Has Passed’, and I’ve come up with a list of books that I have re-read either once or many times, with different emotions every time.
Top Ten Books I Feel Differently About As Time Passes
Books I Hated At First
1. Looking For Alibrandi, by Melina Marchetta. Oh, man. I don’t know what it is about me, but I’m incredibly, pig-headedly resistant to just about anything that too many people tell me is good. I was talked into reading Looking for Alibrandi by my mother around the age of thirteen (as you’ll soon see, I was a bit of a handful around this age). I think she thought, as the child of immigrants, that I would relate to the story of a second-generation Italian girl growing up in Australia. Unfortunately, at this point, the only stories I really wanted to relate to had fire-breathing dragons in them, so I spent a few years gleefully abusing Alibrandi to anybody who would listen. Imagine my embarrassment when I read it a few years later and couldn’t put it down. And cried like a baby. And then re-read it for good measure.
2. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien. What?! What is that doing there?! Sara, weren’t you a complete fantasy nerd from the moment you dropped out of your mother wearing a pair of reading glasses and a sticker that says ‘Don’t Bother Me, I’m Reading’? (Incidentally, that story is absolutely one hundred per cent true.) Okay, so saying I hated LOTR is completely inaccurate and a travesty and frankly I’m entirely worried that my obituary will now read: ‘Rest in Peace, Sara, Middle-Earth Hater’. So allow me to explain: I read LOTR for the first time when I was about ten. I was curious, I made it through the entire series, and I even understood about twenty-five per cent of what was going on at any one time. Which, for a fifth-grader, isn’t too bad, all things considered. I even liked it, especially the bits with the elves and the hobbits. But a book written in a high fantasy style, by an Oxford professor, in the 1930s and 40s, was probably a little bit above my level at the time. It took me many years, and many hundreds of years in university libraries acclimatising myself to the dry style of historians and literary critics the world over before I began to truly appreciate these books.
3. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy. Here’s another example of voracious bookworms biting off more than they can chew when they go raiding their parents’ bookshelves. On one such foray I returned triumphantly with the conviction that I, at the age of fourteen, was going to read Anna Karenina. Mostly because I liked the sound of the name (there weren’t a whole lot of books about Slavic heroines to choose from, and I was pleased with the way her name tripped off my young, bilingual tongue), but also a little because the book was about the size of an ordinary house brick, and in typical teenage style I was ready for a challenge. As you can imagine, I understood even less about marital problems in nineteenth-century Russia than I did about mortal halflings travelling across thousands of miles of hostile terrain in order to do some rudimentary metalworking. Needless to say, I was confused and frustrated, and even though I finished the book, I swore off Tolstoy for life. My next attempt was scarcely less successful: around the time the 2012 movie came out, I got it into my head that it was Time To Re-Read Anna Karenina. Maybe now I was finally ready, I thought.
I wasn’t. I understood more of the book, but liked it less. That might have been the end for my short-lived relationship with Tolstoy, were it not for a university course that finally, finally got me to re-read and appreciate Anna Karenina. Even if I hadn’t liked it on my third attempt, though, I think I should be commended for reading the same 800-page novel three times. After 2,400 pages, I think my brain just broke and began liking Tolstoy in an act of self-preservation, to ensure I didn’t do something dangerous and crazy, like try and read Anna Karenina for the fourth time.
4. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë. It’s hard to believe, I know, considering how often I list Jane Eyre as one of my favourite books of all time, but when I first picked up this novel at the age of fourteen, I was not impressed. In fact, I don’t think I got beyond the first chapter. A few years later Jane Eyre would prove to be my salvation in the midst of stressful end-of-high-school examinations, but things were a little different in the beginning. In my defence, this was about the time that Stepehenie Meyer was trying to convince us that Heathcliff and Wuthering Heights were the height of romance, and as a mere fourteen-year-old, how could I be blamed for believing her? Which reminds me…
Books I Loved At First (AKA Everyone Makes Mistakes, Can You Please Stop Holding Them Above My Head, OK?)
5. The Twilight Series, by Stephenie Meyer. Sigh. I know. Look, nobody’s proud of it, but just about every girl who was a teenager around the years 2006-2009 gave Twilight a try. A worrying proportion of those teenage girls fell head over heels in love with the story, only to resurface several years later with the disturbing realisation that pretty much all the relationships in this story are incredibly disturbing and, in addition, that this was really just a terrible book. I’m sorry to say that I have to count myself among their number. I’ve already discussed the pain that this recollection causes me when I re-read the book last year, so let’s not dwell too much, eh?
6. Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare. Let’s just get all the soppy teenage love stories over in one go, shall we? Yes, Romeo and Juliet is a wonderful play. Yes, there are some smashing scenes. And yes, despite a similarly up-down relationship with it, I’ve come to believe that Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film adaptation of the play is excellent too. But the doe-eyed teenager who first read Shakespeare’s play at age thirteen is all grown up now, and is much more likely to focus on the fact that, for instance, Juliet is thirteen years old (say ‘different times’ all you like, it’s still a bit creepy) and Romeo’s head over heels in love with another woman when the play begins (in other words, dude’s a player).
Books That Just Keep Getting Better
7. Anything by Jane Austen. I know you guys must have had just about as much as you can take of me banging on about Austen. But whenever I think of books that keep getting better with time, it’s always Austen that springs to mind. My deepening appreciation of her excellent writing is a measure of my own development as a reader and student of literature: at thirteen I loved the romance of her world, at eighteen I admired her social critique, and nowadays I’m awed by the subtlety and refinement of her prose.
8. Anything by Terry Pratchett. You’d think after the fourth or fifth re-reading of Wyrd Sisters and Witches Abroad I’d be bored, considering I know all the jokes backwards, but somehow slipping into the Discworld is always such a wonderful experience, like taking a warm bubble bath, or showering after you’ve taken a warm bubble bath, because the thought of sitting around in your own filth for an hour is a little anxiety-inducing.
9. I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith. I love this book. I really do. It’s one of the best teen voices in literature, in my opinion. Re-reading it last year I was afraid I’d have gone off it, but no – it was as fresh and as engaging as ever.
10. The Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling. Another one I’m sure you’re sick of seeing on my lists. But even though I’ve always loved Harry Potter, if I’m honest I don’t think I was quite as much of a Potterhead when I was a kid as I am these days. My parents pointed this out to my sister and I during one of our annual Winter Harry Potter Marathon Readalongs (not to be confused with our annual Summer Star Wars Marathon, which is also enormously fun but with an entire lack of Dobby-related goodness). I don’t think it’s just nostalgia that has made Harry Potter better with age; you begin to pick up on the major ideological issues that are hiding behind the magical world Rowling constructs. And, of course, above all it’s so engaging that you immediately find yourself sucked into the story, even after the tenth or twelfth re-reading.
Which books do you feel differently about as time passes?