I love the feeling of tearing into a new book. Cracking the spine on a glossy cover (heeeaa-ven) just plucked from a bookstore shelf, or perhaps inhaling the musty scent of a library treasure that’s new to me. The idea of being transported to a different time and place thrills me. Watching a story unfold for the first time and experiencing life as the author has shaped it often takes my breath away (I know. Nerd!).
As much as I love new characters and plotlines, sometimes there is nothing like the sweet familiarity of delving into a world I’ve read about before. I’m a serial re-reader, devoting much of my time to sneaking off to peruse the dog-eared pages of my favorite literary stomping grounds. Knowing the highs and lows in advance never makes it any less enjoyable. Quite the contrary. With each read I feel as though I’m somehow bonded to the protagonist and his or her quest and it’s as if I’ve gotten a little closer to the mind of the author who created it all.
Re-reading has always been my thing. When I was a kid it was Superfudge by Judy Blume. My parents would see me with that well-worn blue cover and raise their eyebrows as if to say, “Again?” Peter was probably the first of my book crushes because I recall thinking he was pretty fiiine on this cover. I’m not really sure why, but hey, I was a kid. I thought Cabbage Patch Kids were the bomb and Michael Jackson was the king (which is true on both counts, thus proving my genius thankyouverymuch).
It wasn’t only Judy Blume that I tended to read obsessively. The trend continued as I fell in love with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It didn’t matter how many times I picked it up, I still found the Wonka factory to be enchanting. Willy both delighted and frightened me with his odd little hat and strangely passive aggressive way of dealing with the kids. On those rare occasions when I caught the film on TV (remember those days? No DVR or DVD. When a movie you loved like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory or The Wizard of Oz came on you stopped everything to watch it because it only happened once a year), it never lived up to the magical fantasy Roald Dahl had placed in my own imagination.
As I got older, I became interested in sleuthing (thank you Carolyn Keene and everyone who writes under that pen name). I pored over copies of Nancy Drew and became consumed with The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright. I revisited Amy often, sitting on the edge of my seat as she watched the creepy dolls reenact the story of her family’s dark history. It didn’t matter that I knew the big secret or that I knew she was as safe as a kitten. It was still vivid and gripping (for a children’s book) each time I opened it.
Fast forward through my Sweet Valley High days because as entertaining as those were, let’s face it, they were total literary crap— ten times worse than any after-school special. As a result, my junior high reading left little to the imagination and there was rarely a book I had any interest in picking up again.
It wasn’t until high school—after Julius Caesar, Macbeth, and The Scarlet Letter—that I discovered a novel I would love almost as though it were a living, breathing person—Jane Eyre. Oh I’d read tons of books. Many of them were less than memorable but a good deal of them were excellent. There were none of a caliber that made me want to tear them open every time I saw the spine staring out from my bookcase until I read Bronte’s beautiful story about orphan Jane. Since then I’ve returned to it repeatedly. I look up my favorite passages and devour them again and again. I watch every film version available and I try to imagine who my perfect Jane and Rochester would be. I sigh every time Rochester attempts to convince Jane of his impending marriage to Blanche Ingram and I’m still shocked when the big secret comes out on the day of the wedding.
It’s a rare story that can evoke the same emotion for me as the ones from my adolescence. The Superfudges and the Jane Eyres are few and far between (hold on cowboy. I’m not comparing Peter and Fudge to Jane except that they’re both books I always picked up repeatedly). Nowadays I’m still revisiting Jane at Thornfield Hall and my heart still breaks every time she leaves Mr. Rochester, but I’ve added a few other works of fiction to my list of comforts.
When I want some adventure I can pick up any Harry Potter, though I tend to especially love Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I still laugh at the first line of Pride and Prejudice (“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” As funny today as always). I still cringe at every rambling thought of Mia Thermopolis from The Princess Diaries. And I still cry my eyes out every single time I read The Time Traveler’s Wife (The wings! Gah! Get me a kleenex.).
These books (and a few more) are comforting, like slipping on a pair of warm, cozy socks at the end of a hard day. They’re like sipping a cup of hot chocolate before bed or snuggling down with your favorite quilt from Grandma. To me it’s proof that sometimes old is better than new because we long to revisit the people and places we fell in love with all those years ago. And like real life, true love—even book love— only grows.