Remember heading to Grandma’s as a child? What was the first thing you did when you got to her house in the country? Not right away, of course, but after having tea with fresh pie, or scrambled eggs with sausage and fresh greens from the garden? I’d run straight to the bookshelf.
I’d walk up to it carefully, stroke the books’ spines, mentally saying ”hello”. The books didn’t crowd me, didn’t jump out at me from their place on the shelf. They towered grandly over me, without rushing my choice. I’d stand in front of the shelf and listen close—no, it wasn’t the neighbor’s rooster or the noisy barbecue preparations. I’d tune into myself: what book did I want to start with, which should I choose, which of the book’s heroes did I miss most? I still remember all these country house books by heart. Why? The reason is simple: I would reread them every summer for ten years. Many images from these books found their way into my own writing.
We often claim that we live in a time where people are always rushing somewhere. These days, people rush to catch up, they cram a million to-dos into ever diminishing time slots, attend personal productivity courses, and learn ways to further speed up our own perception of life—with speed reading, for instance. But we can’t actually say for sure if this modern tendency is unique, and if our sense of life is truly different from how people saw things fifty or two hundred years ago. On the surface, it seems that our ancestors lived an unhurried life, that there was a сertain routine. But then when we imagine what our great-great-grandmothers had on their plates, working out in the field while also raising children in the home, it’s amazing they got by without time management courses. I think the sense of time moving fast or slow depends on our personal mindset. For my part, I try not to speed time up but rather to slow it down, stretching out the moment. Reading helps me to do just that.
And I don’t mean tearing through book after book. I mean re-reading beloved works.
Imagine for a second that someone suggested you reread a book that made an impression on you when you first read it as a senior in college. What would your first reaction be? Maybe you’d say: “Are you kidding? I barely have time to read anything new!” But if you can’t find the time for new reads, your time could well be moving too fast. Meaning: it’s time to slow things down—by rereading.
It works like this: when you open a familiar text, for one thing, you return to the past, remembering how you’d read the book when you were younger, as a child. You remember events that surrounded that reading—how you laughed or cried along with the book’s characters.
Second, you find yourself comparing your previous impressions with this fresh look at the text. This time, you’re not just following the plot twists and character arc—you can dive into every line, take in each idea. It’s hard to stop and feel anything when you’re eagerly racing through the latest bestseller. You want to know how it will end. Rereading, meanwhile, affords you precious seconds to stop rushing, to stop, breathe, and process the text.
In my final year of college, I read and was deeply affected by William Styron’s novel Sophie’s Choice. I decided to reread the book at thirty-five, and the reunion brought incredible discoveries—mostly from within myself. This time, I was reading not as a student, but as a mother of three kids, and my life experience resonated deeply as I underwent grave trials along with the heroine.
I’m so glad my children can begin their morning out in the countryside by rereading old favorites. Of course, I could buy them a new book a week. They could check out new books at the library every day if they wanted to. Still, the reading life of my kids would be poorer for the missed opportunity to reach for what they know and love, to traverse the path from lamppost to cave along with Lucy Pevensie and Tumnus the faun, or peer into Mary’s secret garden.
Finally, a note for those parents who worry about how fast their child can read. We often have these thoughts: “I used to read fast though! I’d read a whole volume of War and Peace in one night back at camp, with a flashlight under the covers!” But we’ve got to ask ourselves: didn’t we read so fast precisely because we could afford to reread a familiar book? Do our children have that luxury?
And so I’ve named this article “The Luxury of Rereading.” Life really does go by too quickly. Even so, when we allow ourselves the luxury of rereading favorite books or rewatching beloved films, it will absolutely slow down for a bit, peer into our hearts, and sit down for a breather.
Translated from the Russian by Alisa Cherkasova
Cover image: pexels.com
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