What makes us want to read a book again and again and again? I am struck by the desire in the reader to repeat because my first grandbaby is thirteen months now and the fave book currently is Peek A Boo, a baby flap book by Jan Ormerod. Grandbaby absolutely never tires of this book. Our day is Thursday and over the course of the day the book will be read maybe ten to fifteen times and each time the flap is opened the grandbaby laughs. Without fail! I love it.
But I love to reread books. When I was a child I read certain of my favourite books over and over again, Little Women and The Secret Garden being two of those. What did I get out of this repetition? I knew the stories by heart, had a picture of each character firmly in my mind and this was before any film or tv drama I saw of these books. There is an ache I get inside me for books - much stronger when I was younger but it still returns from time to time. And then there is that fever to get back to your reading, a desire so strong you can't wait for the moment when you can settle down again and retrieve that fictional world you have had to exit from for so long - school, shopping, work, childcare, whatever. That dream which we all know so well is part of the desire to re-read. Sometimes it doesn't work. That world only overtook you once and once only.
But with some of these books, like Little Women, you slip back in as though you were stepping out of the front door into the snow, away from the roaring fire and Beth playing the piano, to call out for Laurie next door and sigh as Meg walks away with John. We return to the familiar and the beauty of the world created in the book, to the characters who have become old friends.
The grandbaby is of course doing something different - finding the Peek a Boo book each Thursday in GrandMiri's house is part of establishing our bond, the sense of familiarity which will be created by all the senses - smell, touch, sound, sight and taste. We share our breakfast of bread and butter, peanut butter and bananas, although I'm the only one who has coffee. We press the button on froggie dear which plays the same tunes over and over and we reach for Peek a Boo and share the joke again and again and again and the bond which emerges is one which I hope will last for ever.
As adults the rereading of books my also be the desire to slip back into the world created and to re-engage with old friends. But there is something else too. There are the books which are not quite finished, even though we have read the last page. These are the books which are so tremendously layered that we need to reread them to deepen our understanding and layer our pleasure, our wonder, our questions and our completion of the work.
This year I read Lila by Marilynne Robinson on my Kindle and it had such a profound effect on me I bought it in hardback to reread. But in the past I have made the mistake of rereading a book too soon and so I have put it on my bookshelf to pick up at the right moment when I know it is the only book I really want to be immersed in. Lila is the third title in a loose trilogy which was written over several years. Gilead is the first and I had tried to read that and felt bewildered when it first came out. For me, once I had read Lila, Gilead made so much more sense to me and I would recommend reading them in that order. I wasn't that keen on the middle title, Home.
Again and again is a gift to the reader - it doesn't happen often particularly for me as I have gotten older. I do remember my friend's nephew saying that he and his friend had both read my novel HIDDEN and gone back and reread it immediately a second time. To me that was an enormous endorsement of my book.
But if you are lucky enough to feel that tremendous ache in you to return and reread the book and it rewards and delights you again and maybe again, then I wish you many more agains and agains.
When my youngest was six the Ugly Duckling had to be read aloud every night for six months. Now that was a real challenge...