Sunday, June 17, 2012

Bookish Public Service Announcement: Don't Reread

Danger! Danger! On their Books Blog, the Guardian recently asked "Which children's books should you avoid rereading as an adult?"

All of them! Don't do it! Rereading is like the popular conception of time travel: just being in the past will inevitably change things in unexpected ways. It's not that an adult reader can't get a lot out of a book that was a favorite in childhood. I think preserving those first memories is much more important than revisiting a book. As a child, you haven't accumulated hundreds of reading experiences, so any impression is stronger. Books take up emotional and mental space that isn't already cluttered.

When you layer the adult reading experience over the childhood one, inevitably the childhood one is retroactively altered. The first memory is harder to access, because you have to fight through the film of the most current read. The poignancy of the emotional response evoked by the book will never again be so sharp.

Here's my top five list of books I will never open again:

A Wrinkle in Time
Everything about this book was special. Meg's strength, her interesting little brother (I wasn't big on the idea that little brothers couldn't be interesting when I was a child) and the terrifying alternate universe they journey to were different from anything I'd ever read. I can't remember the names of people I met two hours ago, but I can remember almost every detail of this series.

Bridge to Terabithia
This book is special because it opened my eyes to issues of class for the first time. It's also special because it was the first book in which I saw my own tendency to create pretend kingdoms reflected back at me. Finally, the death was so unexpected and painful. I couldn't ever feel that punched-in-the-gut feeling again if I reread it. For some reason, I want to hold on to that.

Tuck Everlasting
I hated the fact that Winnie didn't choose immortality. I hated it so much I almost hated the book. But it forced me to confront the idea of mortality. Maybe that's not a memory one should want to hang on to, but it's a big part of who I am. I wouldn't want to change that.

Jane Eyre
Okay, this book is different because I've actually reread it multiple times. I still hold on to some of the feelings evoked by my first read. But I've lost the fear and loneliness evoked by the beginning, and the awe at the unique character whose brain I was inside. It's such a good book that I don't know how anyone could resist the temptation to reread. But I wish I did.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase
My first experience of a Gothic thriller kicked off a lifelong obsession. The child heroines who beat the evil adults were pretty awesome too. I made the mistake of choosing this to read aloud to my resident Young Reader. I only got through about a paragraph, because the dense prose wasn't engaging to my listener. Honestly, I wasn't that impressed either. My surprise about not being swept away again is what I associate with the book now.

Of course, because I am perverse, all of the above books carry bittersweet memories strongly involving either death, sadness or fear. No happy frolicking adventures here! I think I'd extend this public service advice announcement against rereading to practically everything important of childhood that's been left left behind: schools, houses, friends, toys and foods. If you try to go back, you only experience a pale echo in the present.

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