Revisiting your favorite books helps you reflect on how you’ve changed
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Many readers like to return to their favorite books time and time again. Folks often re-read classics, like Pride and Prejudice, or revisit favorite young adult authors like Tamora Pierce or Meg Cabot. And of course, plenty of readers take annual trips to a certain wizarding school.
The practice of re-reading is usually talked about as a form of nostalgia, or comfort. That’s certainly a huge piece of why I re-read certain books, particularly those I will put on audio as I fall asleep, do laundry, or bake. And yet, I can’t help but notice that re-reading books has offered me something else, too.
It’s offered me a chance to reflect on how I’ve grown and changed over the years. I think of that well-known Heraclitus quote, “you can’t step in the same river twice.”
In the same way that the river keeps flowing, throughout our lives we as people grow and shift and change. So, when we return to the books we have loved, the text may stay the same, but we arrive at it as different rivers. We can never read the same book twice because we will never be the same person we were the first time.
This makes retreading an excellent opportunity to reflect on our growth and see how we’ve changed over the years.
The Traveling Pants
There was a time in my life when I would re-read the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series every summer. Each time, I was shocked and surprised to realize I related more to a different character.
The first summer, obviously, I felt I was the most like the shy and quiet Lena. The second time, I began to understand Tibby, with her streak of blue hair and rebellious nature. Finally, I got around to feeling a bit of Carmen’s bravery. I never quite understood Bridget, but I suppose there are some characters who will always be just a bit too different from us.
What I discovered then was that re-reading doesn’t just let us relive the memories of what happens there on the page. It also lets us revisit the versions of ourselves who came to the pages in years past.
Even if I related more to Tibby during the second read through the series, I could still see the aspects of Lena that had once felt so salient to me. I could sit simultaneously in who I was in the moment and see who I had been during the prior read.
While it’s been a while since I last returned to the Sisterhood, I still find the practice of re-reading books to be a fascinating way to remember who I have been and see how I’ve changed and grown.
All The Selves I’ve Been Before
Revisiting your former self through books works particularly well if you happen to be someone who annotates their books heavily.
Since I read with a pen by my side, I am 100% one of those people. Re-reading copies that include my margin notes allows me to see what I thought of the books upon the last reading.
Sometimes, I’ll flip through the pages of books from the past to learn a bit about who I was at the time.
I have traced the experience of reading Wild in college, before experiencing grief and reading it again after the death of my college boyfriend. The readers who came to these pages were so different, and different pieces of Strayed’s experience spoke to them.
In re-reading Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? I found that my insecurities and fears had shifted since I first listened to the book. The titular question worried me less than it had in college or during my early days of new adulthood.
When I return to fiction, like The Princess Diaries and Hawksong, I often find an experience that feels almost new. When I read them originally, I tended to be near the age of the protagonists. Now, I return to them as an older version of myself, reflecting on who I was when I read the books.
I’m not always the best at remembering or empathizing with my younger self, so returning to these frequently read books can help me step back into that version of myself a bit more easily. I can see her more clearly, remember a bit of what it was like to be young, uncertain, and obsessed with stories where I knew that things would turn out okay in the end.
As scary as change is, we can’t grow as people if we don’t let ourselves change. But change can be so small, sometimes we might not be able to tell how far we’ve come. That’s why there’s a particular comfort in returning to the books we have loved — it lets us sit with the things that never change and appreciate the things that do.
And so, if you ever want to reflect on how you’ve grown, or think back on the versions of yourself that you have been, I recommend picking up a book you loved at another period in your life.
You might love these books still, and yet they might hit differently, or help you understand something new about who you were — and are.
Whether it’s a book from childhood, or from before a particularly hard year, the experience of returning to the pages of the past can help you step back into your own old shoes. And in so doing, you can see the ways in which they still fit, and where you’ve outgrown them.
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