There is a satisfying, pleasant familiarity when you return to a book you’ve read on numerous occasions—a warm, habitual sensation that makes you feel as though you have been transported back to better days. This elapsing of time from read to reread changes us—our identities, our personal experiences, our values and beliefs. Books themselves, however, do not change. While this may seem like a self-evident, trivial observation, it actually signifies an impactful change in the relationship we have to the books we read, thereby making the experience of rereading a profound and metamorphic one.
As college students, we hardly have time to read independently for pleasure, let alone reread some of our favorite books. In spite of this, we can all think of that one book that we were once infatuated with, that one book that you literally and figuratively carried with you everywhere you went, that one book that you would be reading in your room as a kid and the whole external world ceased to spin.
It may be the thrill of a murder mystery, the childhood bedtime favorites that make you think of home, or the deep and intricate nature of a relationship between two characters that excites us about reading. Whatever it is, there is a mutual attachment we have with books, a bond between author and reader. This connection varies from person to person, but inevitably shapes who we are in the present moment.
Every word, every individual letter inked and pressed into the pages, remains the same, as does the plot and characters these words create page after page. It is the impact of these words, the way we identify ourselves with characters and our interpretation of stories that change with time.
Upon asking students about their experiences rereading their favorite books, many acknowledged the value in returning to the stories they love.
One student happily recalled Dr. Seuss’s renowned Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, saying, “Every time you read it, you're dealing with different life circumstances. Last time I read it was when I was going to embark on high school and now I am in college. It has made me recognize that I have learned so much more about where I am going to go and what I am going to do in my life.”
Even books that may be considered “past their prime” are still revered and celebrated today. One such example was a student’s recollection of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Originally published in 1960, the book still holds important values and lessons today.
“Rereading this book now,” admitted an Atticus Finch admirer, “I recognize that it is okay Atticus failed and that I can fail too.”
She continued on, saying, “I feel like you understand it better upon rereading it, developing a deeper understanding, not just of the characters themselves, but of society and justice as a whole.”
So much of rereading has to do with the way we engage with books and how we relate them to our own lives. Harry Potter—arguably one of the most well-known fantasy fiction series—was a commonly cited childhood favorite among respondents.
“I grew up with them,” reflected one J.K. Rowling fan. “As I read the books, it was easy to relate to the characters when I was their age.”
More humorously, another Potter fanatic amusingly admitted, “I used to feel like Hermione in high school. Now, college has made me feel like Draco.”
The latter examples demonstrate that rereading books not only teaches us something about ourselves, but also influences our relationships with other people. If you and someone else have shared a book, suddenly you have a bond of communication and understanding. Recognizing a particular aspect of a book—say, a specific character—allows you to understand and relate in a similar way.
Moreover, you feel a desire to develop relationships with people in whom you have some shared reading experience, whatever it may be. The result of these relationships are due to the universality of the lessons one learns from these books, making them applicable to many, and enabling easy discussion and bonding amongst one another.
Books once deemed meaningless can become significant upon reading them again; the act of rereading gives you the ability to unearth an impression of a moment, emotion, or experience in your life. Ask yourself what you have learned in your childhood through high school years that your mind reverts to when you are presented with a problem or a task, such as writing this very article. Those are the valuable things we can learn from rereading books of all ages, authors, and genres.
Ultimately, the best books are the ones that allow you to rediscover something. The full value of a book is not attained in one read. The depth of your rereading experience is what enhances your understanding of yourself, your beliefs, and the relationships you form with others. Perhaps it is time to start recognizing the value in setting aside a moment in our hectic schedules as college students to gain insight into ourselves and others from those age-old books that have been with us all along.