I have just walked home on a bitterly cold night. The wind stung my cheeks and brought tears to my eyes while a light dusting of snow swirled about my feet. Upon entering the house, my eyes noted the stack of books waiting to be read and which I am anxious to share with readers of this blog. Yet on this night, a night when I crave warmth and coziness, I turned to something else. I turned to what I call a comfort book, in this case At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon.
Comfort books are those stories which we turn to again and again. They are books that speak to us in very personal ways and touch our souls. Obviously, this is different for every reader. Some people have certain books they like; others tend to favor works by particular authors. Sometimes we have an affinity for certain genres. It doesn’t matter; they are stories that simply call to us.
I am not alone in my tendency toward rereading favorite books. Your kids probably do it, too. It may drive you crazy, especially if you are reading the same book aloud over and over. There are plenty of reasons people reread books and there are plenty of advantages, too.
From a purely academic standpoint, rereading helps to strengthen understanding. A first reading gives us the basic story skeleton; further readings allow us to examine a story more deeply and pick up more of the subtle points. Rereading gives us more basis for analysis.
However repeated rereadings go deeper than that. Rereading a book at different ages and times of our lives gives us a different perspective. Author Madeleine L’Engle wrote, “The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.” I have found this to be true and applicable to my reading. Here is an example from Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery (and yes, she is an author on my comfort reading list!). It comes from the scene where Anne has a temper tantrum at Mrs. Rachel Lynde who has just told Anne that she was certainly not chosen for her looks.
“An old remembrance suddenly rose up before Marilla. She had been a very small child when she had heard one aunt say of her to another, “What a pity she is such a dark, homely little thing.” Marilla was every day of fifty before the sting had gone out of that memory.”
I read those lines when I was eleven, but I was fifty myself (or somewhere close to it) before I could fully appreciate what Montgomery had written. The book hadn’t changed; I had. I enjoyed those words as a young reader, but the deeper understanding that only experience could have taught me came later.
Sometimes we simply want to savor an enjoyable experience. Suppose you once have a delicious spaghetti dinner. Don’t you want to enjoy it again at another time? And again? We think nothing of repeating that experience, so why wouldn’t we want to do the same with a story we really liked? (On a side note, it somehow seems more acceptable that we enjoy visual stories/movies repeatedly.)
It is true that sometimes we can only have the same experience once. I remember reading the ending of The Life of Pi and being shocked. Further readings would never have the same impact. This is true of good mysteries and suspense stories. We may still enjoy the story even if we are prepared for the ending. Sometimes it leads us to read more in a certain genre so that we can recreate that suspense and surprise.
We want our children to be good readers. We want stories that deepen their understanding, but love of reading cannot be forced upon them. It has to come from their own true interests. It is fine to encourage them to find more material to read – because there are always more and more books out there for each of us to love – but it’s okay for them to pick a few to really take to heart.
So cuddle up in the blankets one of these cold nights – or next summer on a warm beach – and pull out one of those old favorites. Sit back and enjoy!