A quick SPOILER warning – This post contains some spoilers for the Anne of Green Gables series, published by L.M. Montgomery in the early 20th century.
I never used to re-read much. There are (roughly) a bazillion books in the world, and if I’m going to get through as many of them as possible, I shouldn’t waste too much time going back to the ones I’ve already read, right? I always thought of re-reading as the lazy option -something you do when you can’t be arsed to find anything else to read.
But I’ve recently changed my attitude, thanks to a boxset of the Anne of Green Gables series that my parents bought me last Christmas. I’ve been working my way steadily through these books that I’ve already read, and have come to understand the joys of re-reading.
You’ll never read the same book twice
As Pocahontas1 said, you can’t step in the same river twice. The same could be said about books. A book is a static object, but the world changes around it, making it seem different. The subject of a novel can become less relevant or more relevant, and characters can become less or more relatable, depending on the current issues and trends of modern life.
A reader also changes throughout her life, which means that the same book could seem completely different at ages 10, 30, 50 and 70. This has definitely been the case with the Anne of Green Gables series, which I first read during primary school.
I adored the first book in the series, but got a little bored with the others. Maybe the quality of the writing declined? Nope. It turns out the later books are excellent, and I just couldn’t relate to “grown-up” Anne, who did mysterious things like getting a job and going to college.
Now that I’ve had these experiences myself, I find the books much more engaging. Though there’s always the risk I’ll lose interest again when she gets married and has babies!
Catch things you missed the first time around (Spoilers!)
Re-reading this series has been a nostalgic experience. There’s so much I remember from when I was a kid, like the gorgeous, giddy descriptions of the Canadian countryside, and Anne’s (mostly endearing) habit of being a drama queen. But there’s also a lot I missed when I read it as a child.
For example, I didn’t realise how much the author celebrates unconventional families. Anne is an orphan. She’s raised by Thomas and Marilla Cuthbert, who aren’t a married couple but a brother and sister who run a farm together. Thomas dies when Anne is a teen, but she and Marilla aren’t on their own for long, as Marilla adopts a pair of six-year-old twins.
Then Rachel Lynde, a recently widowed neighbour, moves in with them and Anne suddenly has two mums! There’s never an implication that Anne ought to be raised in a more traditional family, and when she describes her home to a new college friend, she makes it heart-meltingly clear that she is happy and loved.
There are also smaller details I’d forgotten, like the death of Anne’s friend Ruby from “consumption”, and a shocking burst of dark humour when Anne and her housemates have to get rid of a cat (don’t worry, the cat evades their murderous intentions and becomes part of the household).
The comfort factor
Comfort reading is all the rage these days, which is hardly surprising. While I think it’s important to value books that challenge and unsettle us as much as those that comfort and charm us, literary comfort food is an important part of a balanced reading diet.
Sometimes you just want to pick up a book and know you’re about to spend some time with characters you like, who aren’t going to die unexpectedly, and will be safe and happy at the end of the story. I don’t think any author owes readers a nice and comfortable time, so the only way to guarantee it is to go with something you’ve already read.
So, what do you think of re-reading? Are there any books you can read over and over without getting bored? And are there any fellow Anne fans around?
1 Apparently it was some dude called Heraclitus who said this, but I’m a 90s child, so I heard it first from Pocahontas.