After retiring from a lifetime of teaching literature, Patricia Meyer Spacks embarked on a year-long project of rereading dozens of novels: childhood favorites, fiction first encountered in young adulthood and never before revisited, books frequently reread, canonical works of literature she was supposed to have liked but didn’t, guilty pleasures (books she oughtn’t to have liked but did), and stories reread for fun vs. those read for the classroom. On Rereading records the sometimes surprising, always fascinating, results of her personal experiment.
Spacks addresses a number of intriguing questions raised by the purposeful act of rereading: Why do we reread novels when, in many instances, we can remember the plot? Why, for example, do some lovers of Jane Austen’s fiction reread her novels every year (or oftener)? Why do young children love to hear the same story read aloud every night at bedtime? And why, as adults, do we return to childhood favorites such as The Hobbit, Alice in Wonderland, and the Harry Potter novels? What pleasures does rereading bring? What psychological needs does it answer? What guilt does it induce when life is short and there are so many other things to do (and so many other books to read)? Rereading, Spacks discovers, helps us to make sense of ourselves. It brings us sharply in contact with how we, like the books we reread, have both changed and remained the same.