Note: I won’t go into much detail about our current world-wide situation as I don’t have much to add to all existing information and I personally love the book blogging world for the escapism it offers. That said, I do hope that you and your loved ones are doing well!

Now let’s get on to the blog post:

I recently re-read One Hundred Years of Solitude, which for a long time I had claimed to be my favourite book. Though I still loved most of it, there were also some parts of it I didn’t like as much, mainly because there seemed to be some issues with consent.

Side note: How many times do you have to read something before you can call it your favourite book?

This made me think about the risks of re-reading beloved books.

The Cons

Finding out that a book you think you love isn’t as great as you remembered is quite sad and can really make you question yourself and your own taste.

Harry Potter Who Am I GIF - HarryPotter WhoAmI Hedwig ...

There are different reasons for disliking a previous favourite and they can be divided into two categories: (1) disliking the book for personal reasons that do not make it any less of a good book or (2) disliking it because you judge the book itself to be lacking (in this blog post I’m focussing on this being due to problematic subject matter).

Disliking a book for personal reasons

When a book’s topic doesn’t speak to you as much anymore or their plot has become cliché it is usually a bit sad but not insurmountable. We can accept that our tastes have changed, we have aged and the literary world has moved along and focus instead on the nice memory of reading the book for the first time.

Disliking a book because it’s bad

However, many of the books that we loved as children have turned out to be quite problematic by today’s standards. For example, Shruti from This Is Lit recently wrote a great post on how the Famous Five series is full of sexism, racism and xenophobia. Oof.

Disliking these books seems to be the price to pay for becoming more educated about topics such as race, gender and consent. Though I think we all agree that becoming more educated (or: “woke” XD) is a good thing, it can still evoke some very conflicted feelings. On the one hand we are happy to live in a world where we realise how problematic things are, but at the same time we feel a guilty nostalgia for a time when we could enjoy this book without question. I think the only thing we can do in this case is to sit with this feeling for a while and not beat ourselves up for having it, while also accepting that it is time to move on.

Making judgements about the whether a book is ‘problematic’ is extra difficult because there seems to be no clear-cut way to respond to such books. Depending on the book and issue at hand I keep fluctuating between camp ‘this is how people thought at the time’ and camp ‘this is just bad’. On top of that, there is the matter of the author’s intentions. Any views expressed in a work of fiction do not necessarily reflect those of the author but at the same time I do think they have some kind of responsibility for what they publish. TBH, I haven’t fully worked out my thoughts on this yet.

So should we never re-read a book again? No, of course not.

The Pros

Re-reading a book can also heighten the joy it brings you: you are confirmed in your own good taste, you feel relief that it holds up, and often re-reading a book allows you to notice more details and foreshadowing because you already know where the story is going. I love re-reading. The works of Jane Austen, for example, are a real treat no matter how many times I read them.

And also, isn’t it a kind of moral duty to re-read the books we keep recommending to other people? A few months ago I wrote about the 20 books I often recommend, though some of these I’ve only read once.

Conclusion

I think it comes down to this: when choosing to re-read a book we are weighing the risk of extra big disappointment to the possible elation of really loving it again. And sometimes we win, sometimes we lose. It seems to me that the only thing we really can do is to weigh carefully which books we want to re-read, and, more importantly, which books we say are good.


What do you think? Have you every been let down by a re-read? Have you found a fool-proof method to prevent disappointment? Please let me know!

P.S. Are you wondering how to get round to re-reading if your TBR of unread books is massive already? Check out my 8 tips for reading more books.

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8 thoughts on “Re-reading Books Is A Dangerous Game

  1. This is such a great topic—something I myself have been grappling with for a while now. You see, I really loved The Sound and the Fury when I first read it but I recently realised just how racist it also is. I was so caught up in the writing style, I hardly ever noticed anything else and now I’m beating myself up about it.

    Same with One Hundred Years too. Loved it when I first read it but I’m sticking my head in the sand and not re-reading it. 🙈

    At least there’s always Jane Austen. She’s my favorite author and I love re-reading Persuasion. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, that is exactly how it felt to me! Don’t beat yourself up, I’d say, we all grow & learn as we go along.

      And thank God for Jane Austen 🙏

      Like

  2. I love classics which means that most of the books I read are sexist if read with a modern perspective and the ones that are not at all racist are usually the ones completely lacking diversity. Sexism I usually just ignore, unless it is especially bad, the only one suffering if I let it stop me from enjoying otherwise enjoyable texts is me. I do note it of course as it can be an interesting insight into how our perspectives have changed and it also influences who I would recommend a text to as we all have different levels where we can’t ignore it any longer. Racism I find harder to ignore though, mostly because it is usually not aimed at me so I don’t feel entitled to determine how bad it is. But while I do believe that we should be aware of problematic aspects of a text, that doesn’t automatically mean that we can no longer appreciate its good parts. Especially when those problematic parts a more reflecting historical perspectives rather than any ill will by the author (who may sometimes even have been ahead of their time, after all, if an author was 50 years ahead of their time in 1900, they would still be hopelessly behind today…).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Love this post! Really great discussion! I do hear you about how rereading books can make you question yourself and sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I hear you about how it’s hard to find dividing line between “this is how people thought” and “this is just bad”- cos it’s kind of both? I guess it’s often good examples of racism and sexism, which could be educational, but it’s also important to acknowledge they’re just bad (and reading them can make us uncomfortable).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I really love this post!!! I actually don’t reread books because I fear that they don’t live up to my current standards + our perception of problematic portrayals in books have made us all too aware of their flaws. When I was in high school I read a lot of YA Contemporary books that shaped me but it was really disappointing when I realized how problematic they are as well as the authors! I loved the Maze Runner series and it propelled me to read more YA dystopia but I recently heard that James Dashner (the author) was a sexual abuser and I was just sooooo saddened by this news. It just goes to show that the more we become aware of our stance in literature, we simply cannot separate the art from the artist. I really love this discussion Emmie :>

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!! Your support means a lot to me <3. Yes, during my degree I learned all about 'the death of the author' and how we should separate them entirely from their work, but at the moment that seems more impossible than ever because authors can communicate much more directly with readers via social media and their 'status' as an author gives them a platform to voice their ideas. Plus, even if you only focus on an author's work, they still earn money from you buying their book.

      Liked by 1 person

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