Recently, I was chatting to my friend, Cat, about books and she was lamenting that plodding through The Count of Monte Christo was doing nothing for her (and it is a loooong book – quite a time commitment to make), so I simply advised that she stopped. My opinion is that life is too short for books that just don’t spark something inside you. Even the classics you feel you should read or enjoy are not for everyone. In response to this, she said she didn’t actually like Wuthering Heights until she had read it for the second time.
This got us thinking about the purpose of the second read. There are so many reasons people read a book again. Usually, they remember loving it and want to be transported back to that place, but it can also be due to reading it first in school (or generally when young) and wanting a refresh as an adult, or, like Cat, not getting into it the first time, but feeling there was enough there to warrant a second go at reading it.
We realised that just as you have to be in a certain mood to read a certain book, you also have to be in the right place in your life to fully enjoy certain books. Reading the same book more than once – at different times in your life – can give you a whole new perspective on it. Your perception of the characters and the author’s voice can change as you do.
Cat also gave the example that she used to love Nick Hornby, but re-read a few of his books in recent years and rather than charming and funny, found his characters, as she put it, ‘all so bloody whingy and self-centered.’ I recently re-read The Rosie Project, a book I feel very fondly for, but the second read wiped off some of the gloss – I noticed flaws I hadn’t before and didn’t find the characters as wonderful as I did during the first read. Perhaps this just says we’ve both become far more cynical readers in our old age… But I like to think it supports the idea that we’re at different places in our lives than the first time we read the respective books, so they speak to us differently now.
On the flip-side, there are books that no matter how many times you read them, remain fantastic. One that springs to mind is The Secret History. I first read it in my early twenties and recently again last year. Very different times in my life, but I had the same love for the book. It’s exceptionally written with such a clever story, it can so easily transport me into its world that it doesn’t seem to matter what’s going on in my world. I think there’ll always be a few reads that become your forever-books. On that note, I haven’t yet got round to re-reading the Harry Potter series, but 100% hope they fall into this category. I would be devastated to re-read them as an adult and not love them as much now… maybe, sub-consciously, that’s why I haven’t done it yet!
The idea of the right voice at the right time really intrigues me, it’s not an angle I’d considered before, but it makes so much sense. I have also realised that there are not a lot of books I’ve actually re-read, but with this new perspective in mind, I’m currently thinking back to books I thought I would love but didn’t, and will give them another go to see if they capture my interest any more at this point in my life. Will keep you posted.
I’d love to know your thoughts on this topic, any reads that changed for you the second time? Let me know!