The Sweet Sorrow of Rereading

Rereading books is like meeting old friends: The characters we thought we knew challenge us to incorporate fresh understanding.

“If I once read for adventure, I now read for security. How nice to be able to return to what won’t change.”

If you’re a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, cousin, or friend of the family, you’ve perhaps endured the fury of a toddler compelled to listen to her favorite book with a word missed or a picture skipped. The point of the favorite book, for the listener, is that it remains the same. The more often the three-year-old hears the familiar sentences, the more content she appears. When a word changes, pleasure recedes: A beloved book has lost its identity.

Trying to account for this passion for sameness, we may say that it reveals the toddler’s need for security. In a world crammed with new experiences, exciting yet unpredictable, the child treasures what she can hold on to. If even the book turns unpredictable, she loses what she has depended on. A friend’s personality has changed. ...

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