I don’t usually like to re-read books. The only exception is To Kill a Mockingbird. I have re-read that book multiple times since my first read around ten. The story appeals to me so much that I want to always immerse myself into the plot and into Scout’s mind. Aside from this book, my overall view on re-reading books has been that what’s the point reading the book again if I already knew the plot? What additional enjoyment could I take from the story if I had already experienced it once? Somehow, To Kill a Mockingbird has escaped this questioning because of how impactful and memorable the book was from the very beginning of my reading life.
My view on re-reading books besides To Kill a Mockingbird started changing last year, when I re-read Pride and Prejudice for book club. The first time I read the book was when I was 18 years old. Since then, while I hadn’t re-read the book, I had a constant contact with the plot through my obsession with the fantastic BBC miniseries. I had a bunch of friends who loved this miniseries as much as I did, so I was always discussing or re-watching the miniseries at some point over the course of 13 years. Given this immersion, when I re-read the book last year after this long gap, I didn’t think my perception had any room to change. I was therefore surprised how critical I was of Elizabeth in my second read.
Watching the miniseries multiple times hadn’t made me alter my view on Elizabeth at any point, while re-reading did. My second read at a later age allowed me to recognize Elizabeth’s youthful flaws, something I couldn’t pick up at 18 because I myself had those same flaws and didn’t think they were flaws at that time. In my re-read, I recognized her naiveté and unfair judging, something which I shared and related to Elizabeth at 18. Knowing Pride and Prejudice ‘s ending made me more observant of the clues to the turning point/ending (e.g. looking for the character flaws that led to Elizabeth’s misunderstanding). In addition, I picked up a new concept I could only get with re-reading it at later age: introverted people – like Mr. Darcy- are sometimes misunderstood because they don’t follow the norm in being talkative and social. My friend best summarized my experience in re-reading the book: knowing the plot beforehand allowed me to spend more time on details I missed. I didn’t have to focus on the story as much, so could divert my attention to other parts in the storytelling.
Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle in BBC’s “Pride and Prejudice”
After my experience with Pride and Prejudice, I was more open to re-reading books. This year, we once again chose another Austen I had read previously – Emma. Again, I had read the book when I was as similar age to the heroine. I read it at 22 and didn’t like the book at all. It was the last Austen book I read and I found it boring, and the worst of all Austen books. I hated that book first time I read it. Ten years later, I was absolutely enthralled with book. Again, knowing the ending made me pay better attention to Emma’s thoughts, and pick up on how arrogant her character really is. My recognizing Emma’s snobbishness made me question her assessments of others, something I had not in my first read. This questioning made me realize that in general, it’s important to keep in mind the biases in narrator’s storytelling; like real life, it’s important to not always take things at face value, and think more critically about what from point of view someone is saying.
Re-reading Emma and Pride and Prejudice has altered how I will approach my To Kill a Mockingbird re-read this year (I am re-reading it in preparation for the Go Tell a Watchman, the prequel that will be released next month.) I will be more active in looking at details in To Kill A Mockingbird than I previously was. Re-reads offer the opportunity to indulge in the smaller parts and alter your view of a book.
Image Source: BBC