Catherine Owers | Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Perhaps the best thing about college is the opportunity for new experiences: going new places, meeting new people, learning new ideas. So it may sound a little strange to encourage you to read a book that you’ve read before. Reread your favorite book, reread the book you detest, reread the book you couldn’t get into in high school and SparkNoted your way through.
Rereading allows us to reexamine what we loved about the book in the first place and to reconsider what we hated about the book. If reading inspires conversation, rereading encourages reflection. For the books we’re rereading haven’t changed (obviously), but we, the readers, have. When we revisit works, we see how we’ve grown, as we respond differently to the various themes and identify with different characters.
The books we loved as children can speak to us as adults in new ways, and if we’re lucky, we come to have a deeper understanding and greater love of these titles. Good books transcend categorizations. Good books get better the second (or seventh) time around.
This summer, I indulged in a rereading of the entire Harry Potter series, and I can definitely say that each book has only gotten better. The first time I read the series, I was focused strictly on the plot. But on rereading, I am better able to understand the genius of the series. Instead of focusing on the plot, I was able to more leisurely appreciate the character development that occurs throughout the series and the juxtaposition of hilarious dialogue with serious decisions. Even further, I’ve gained a deeper understanding of the themes of sacrifice, loyalty and love that form the heart of the series.
Rereading should not be relegated to children’s literature, though, for adult fiction with any depth to it will encourage, if not necessitate, rereading. The first time I attempted to read “Gone With the Wind,” I found the length intimidating and the society it presented incomprehensible. The second time I read the novel, I read it as a character study, demonstrating how people respond differently to crises. Yet my later readings revealed a severe shortcoming of the novel, for its one-dimensional presentation of slaves and its reliance on caricatures. The first time I read “Jane Eyre,” I was bored by the gloomy setting and confused by the supernatural occurrences. In rereadings, I was impressed by the themes of strength, determination and independence the novel imparts.
Encouraging us to open our minds and hearts to the world around us is something I think Notre Dame does particularly well. However, this doesn’t mean that we need to go to an unfamiliar place to learn something new. Sometimes, we can learn new things from a familiar place: from a familiar book.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.