Right now I'm in the process of re-reading His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman and The Sick Bag Song by Nick Cave. The latter I read for the first time in May this year, and the former is a series that I first read when I was a child, and have re-read many times since, but not in a few years. And it made me want to write a post about the value of re-reading.
Reading new books is great: finding new worlds you know nothing about and diving into them is so enjoyable. And when you open a book that's new to you, you come to it with the chance that it will also teach you something new.
But books you've already read can do this too, and sometimes even better than new books can.
Let me tell you what I mean by that.
I've long said the His Dark Materials trilogy is my favourite book series. They're my favourite books of all time. I can hear the gasps of some die-hard bookworms out there: yes, I have an all time favourite. I can look at my shelf of beautiful books and honestly say "These ones are my favourites."
I've been saying that about these books for years, even though I hadn't re-read them since I was maybe 13 or 14, but I could remember so solidly how they made me feel, the impression they made on me, and I knew without a doubt that nothing after them has made quite the same impression. So it was a logical choice, in a way, to call these my favourites. But apart from gut feeling, I'd forgotten a lot of why I called them my favourites.
So around came my birthday last month, and I decided "Hey there's a really pretty bind up copy of these books that I won't buy because it's €15 even online. But it's my birthday, so fuck it." So I bought it, and it came a few days after my birthday, and then a few days after that I couldn't sit and look at it without wanting to pick it up, even though my 30+ other books on my TBR were also staring me in the face. I picked the trilogy up.
It was half way through the first book that I realised I had missed so much. And I don't mean in the emotional "Oh I missed this book I love it so much", I mean that there were parts I hadn't caught, little nuances that I'd never understood reading it as a child and even as a young teenager. There were plot points I'd forgotten about completely, and bits that I remembered perfectly that took on a whole new meaning because I was reading them with more life experience under my belt.
This is where I hit the point I'm trying to make. Every time you re-read a book, you're reading it as a different person. You are not the same person you were the last time you read it, you know more or different things now, there are parts you'll be able to find whole new layers to just because you didn't have the capacity to see them before now.
And it is amazing to realise that.
I'm in between the second and third book of the trilogy right now, and I've come to realise that this book means so much more to me than just being a favourite. Looking back, I can see now how much these books affected me, my worldview, my personality, my morals, when I was younger without me even knowing about it.
I've realised that these books, as of right now, are the best pieces of literature I have ever held in my two hands. In the most objective sense possible when talking from personal experience, I can say that not only are these my favourite books of all time - but that they are also the best books I have ever read.
And I'm so glad I know that now. Because this means that when I continue to read new things, I'll know when something measures up. These are the best books I've ever read. Will they always be? I don't know, but because I know have a starting point, a baseline, I will know when I've read something even better. After thinking about that at first, I was slightly afraid, because I love these books so much, so do I even actually want something to knock them out of that place? And when I thought about it for a while I realised the answer was absolutely. Because if one day I read something that is even better than these, I won't care about the placement changing, because I will have discovered something so great that there would be nothing to worry about.
Because I know I'll love it.