The Fine Art of Re-Reading
There are always things we look forward to with eager anticipation. That first date with that special someone we’ve admired from afar for so long. The birth of a first child. A weekend away from it all. The release of a new book by a favorite author. I'm filled with such anticipation at the moment as I count down the days until the release of Jim Butcher's new Harry Dresden story, Peace Talks.
But sometimes I’m filled with even more anticipation as I contemplate the opening pages of an old and cherished favorite book I’ve decided to re-read. It's the anticipation of visiting old friends again. The thrill of heading down those well-traveled byways to places known and loved.
It doesn't matter in the least that I’ve been there and done that, covered that ground, practically memorized the scenes or the dialogue. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made the dangerous trek to Rivendell and beyond with Frodo and Sam. Or sat quietly in the corner of Nero Wolfe’s office in the old brownstone on West 35th Street (on one of the yellow chairs, of course), watching the snarky, food-loving, orchid-loving, supremely intelligent Wolfe call all the suspects together and proceed to deduce the identity of a cold-blooded killer from nothing more than a dropped word. Or walked the mean streets of Ankh-Morpork with Sam Vimes as he shelters out of the rain, smoking a foul cigar while doggedly searching for some elusive breaker of The Law.
And it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve read a book before. I still get a frisson of excitement as I read the opening sentence from LOTR: “When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton." It gives me a feeling of warmth, of belonging. Of being, as was said so eloquently on Cheers, someplace where everyone knows you.
When I reread a story, it's not the destination that matters--after all, I know where we're going to end up. Instead, it's the journey with old friends that provides the joy. It’s like going to visit a favorite old uncle—you know what chestnut of a joke he’s going to tell you even before it leaves his mouth, ‘cause he’s told it a hundred times before. But it’s still comforting in its own way.
Some people only want to break new ground, and I can appreciate that. I love to read a new book as much as anyone. It’s exhilarating to open the pages of a new book and visit uncharged territory. But, in a year or two, I’ll start thinking ‘hey, wouldn’t it be fun to go back and read…whatever it happens to be… again?’ To check in on those old friends, see how they’re holding up. And back I go. Maybe it’s an addiction? I don’t know. All I know is, I can’t stop re-reading. And I love it.