I’m not a great re-reader. It’s not that I’m against the idea, it’s just that the pile of new books never seems to let up, so the old favorites never quite surface. I suspect I’m not alone in this regard among heavy readers.
That’s just one of the reasons why I think taking a month with your book group to let readers re-experience an old favorite is such a good idea. If they’ve got an extra reason to do it, most readers will gladly return to try a book again, whether they loved it the first time or suspect that they might like it better now.
When we read books, they read us in a way too. Our experience of each book is not objective: it’s strongly affected by our experiences, by our other reading, and by how many of the settings, reference points, and allusions we understand. Which characters we appreciate may depend on our age, by whether or not we have experienced similar people, or whether we can currently empathize with their experiences. All of that means that re-reading a book may result in a very different experience the second time around.
But re-reading is fascinating in other ways too. Books can be store places for memories. As we read them we make connections to our current life. Re-reading a book, especially one first read in youth, can unlock that cache of memories, remind us of the person we were when we first encountered the story.
There is a growing list of alternatives available to readers who want to combine the experience of re-reading with something slightly new. Another way to help get those old favorites back to the top of the reading stack is to try them in a new format. For instance, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time has just been re-released as a graphic novel adapted and illustrated by the award-winning Hope Larson. The three-volume Graphic Canon by various writers and artists adapts classics from Gilgamesh to The Heart of Darkness. Try an audiobook, where hearing the book read aloud may put a new spin on your experience. Find a new translation of a classic, or read another work by the same author or a biography of the author in combination to add depth to your experience.
I guarantee an interesting discussion if you take a month to re-read. You might specialize by asking readers to re-try a work they were required to read in school, that is attached to fond childhood memories, or that they first read during an especially memorable period of their lives. Whatever path you take, give it a try. Sometimes the best paths forward require re-tracing ones’ footsteps.