The Importance of ReReading

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“…and since the last time I told it, and since the last time you heard it, the earth’s gone ‘round the sun, the rain’s fallen into the brook, and the brook’s run into the river. Even if you’ve heard the story before, even if I tell it word for word just like the first time, you’ve changed and I’ve changed and the story will change.” –How the Heather Looks by Joan Bodger
Prior to 2020, I rarely reread books. I thought once I’d read a book I couldn’t get anything else out of it. Then, however, I picked up An Experiment in Criticism for a second time. I read it along with The Literary Life Podcast, and I was surprised at how much I learned from my second time through the book. The first time I read An Experiment in Criticism I found it boring. I kept the book simply because it was by C. S. Lewis, and I knew many people valued and appreciated his books.
Yet with the reread, I found Joan Bodger to be right. I had changed since my first reading of An Experiment in Criticism. This time instead of a boring academic book I found a relatable book that showed me the beauty of literature.
Even still, I continued to view myself as a non-rereader. I thought An Experiment in Criticism was an anomaly. But a friend asked me one time if I had read Surprised By Joy (also by C. S. Lewis). As it turns out, I had read it . . . but I hadn’t enjoyed it. Just like An Experiment, I found Lewis’s autobiography to be boring and difficult.
Yet my friend’s question kept coming back to mind. He had said that he assumed I would like Surprised By Joy because of the many literary references. I admitted to myself that if I wasn’t already familiar with Surprised By Joy I would have been immediately intrigued by my friend’s description of the book. I decided to set aside my first impression in order to read Surprised By Joy again.
“Liking an author may be as involuntary and improbable as falling in love.” — C. S. Lewis in Surprised By Joy
This time around I enjoyed the look at C. S. Lewis’s life and the influences that shaped him into the writer I had gradually grown to love. Just like An Experiment in Criticism, I found that I had changed. I had grown as a reader and as a thinker. Now I could appreciate C. S. Lewis’s writing in a way that I was unable to the first time I had picked up those books.
C. S. Lewis made me a rereader. His books are richer the second time through, and I learn so much more each time I revisit his books. Perhaps even more than what I have gained from rereading his books is the knowledge that there is always more to learn. Each time I revisit a book, I’ve changed. While the words in the book haven’t changed, their influence on me has changed. I bring more to the book and as a result I can take more from the book each time I come back to it.

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