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.
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.
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.
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.
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.