Every year, usually when the days begin to get shorter, the nights longer, and the cold gives me an excuse to stay inside, I re-read the entire Harry Potter series. Some years I will binge read them all within two weeks, surfacing dazed and drunk on words (when this happens I mope around for a week or so lamenting the end and nursing a wicked book hangover), while other years I will draw the series out, reading other books in-between, returning to Hogwarts when I’m tired or sleepy or unsatisfied with literature. But regardless of how I re-read the series, I always do.
Harry Potter is not the only one.
I re-read The Secret History every year, and have recently realised that I’ve unintentionally begun to re-read The Goldfinch annually too. His Dark Materials seems to always slip onto my bedside table without warning at least once every 365 days. And then there’s the books that spend a few years in hiatus, waiting quietly for me to return to them – Patti Smith’s Just Kids, Murakami, The Lover’s Dictionary, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The World’s Wife, Ali Smith…
For all those new and exciting books that I read, and that I plan to read, there is power in the art of re-reading.
I first read Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot when I was a teenager – on the wave of The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex. But it fell flat, it didn’t have the richness or detail of his other two novels, I wasn’t obsessed with it, I felt like it was boring at best.
Turns out I just didn’t get it.
Last month I re-read The Marriage Plot. It was a million times better the second time. Since my first read, I had grown up. My literary life had literally gone through adolescence and emerged on the other side with a literature degree and about 300 books read. And so it all made sense – the musings on Austen and Eliot and the Brontës, the allusion to David Foster Wallace, the obsession with Roland Barthes The Lover’s Discourse, and the seemingly endless layers of intertextual references.
It was the same with A Series of Unfortunate Events: what I had read (and loved) as a child was suddenly transformed through re-reading.
Some say re-reading Harry Potter every year is silly and a waste of time, but, every year I find new meaning because I’m one year smarter than last time. Every time I reread Potter I realise that I’ve grown and learnt things about myself.
So go and re-read all the books people! You will find meaning and understanding that you haven’t before – not because the book has changed, but because you have changed.