Thursday, March 23, 2017

Would You Read a Book for the First Time Again?

I've heard this question a lot over the years. If you could somehow magically re-experience reading your favorite book for the first time, would you? Would you read a book for the first time again if you could?

When people ask that theoretical question, most people answer YES. I've seen it all around, on blog posts, on tumblr, on BookTube: "I wish there was a device/magic spell that made you forget a book so you could read it for the first time all over again!"

And I get why people want there. There is nothing like the very first time you read a life-changing, gloriously entertaining, soul-igniting book. It's the best feeling ever. It's the readerly high we all crave.

My answer, though, is always a resounding "NO."

"NO, I DO NOT WANT THAT DEVICE/MAGIC SPELL. I do not want to read Harry Potter/Pride and Prejudice/insert seminal/beloved title here for the first time all over again."

What's got your knickers in a knot? Why are you being so contrary about a hypothetical question, Gillian, geez louise? Have a latte and chillax.

I WILL take a latte, thank you, but I'm still going to be contrary. For me, when and where I read a Very Personally Important Book(TM) is nearly as important as what I read. I remember where I was when I read every single Harry Potter book, and exactly how old I was. I remember the family vacation I was on in high school when I cracked open North and South. I remember reading Georgia Nicolson books at summer camp, and spending the rest of my adolescence speaking in a rather embarrassing imitation of her. Falling down the Twilight rabbit hole in junior year. Gorging myself on Mockingjay, TERRIFIED of what would happen (rightly so, obviously). Reading Illuminae on vacation and liveblogging my EXTREME READING EMOTIONS to Meg as I went.

Ahh, those misty, foul-mouthed memories

I think of GREAT READING experiences the way I do great life events. I think of the lost week in which I obsessively binged Percy Jackson in the same fond, nostalgic way I remember a great trip I took or a wonderful birthday party. The weekend I read the entire Under the Never Skytrilogy. When I stayed up all night weeping over The Raven King. The way I didn't put down Uprooted for, like, four solid hours, even as I bumped around my apartment and pulled food out of the fridge and tried to feed myself one handed. Those are my favorite reminiscenseseses how do you pluralize that word I give up

I don't want to erase those memories and do it over again, because I liked it the first time. And I looooooooooove rereading, almost as much as I love reading. There's such wonderful comfort to me in diving back into a book I know and finding new things and hanging out with old friends. I have a really good memory for books, too, so it's rare that I ever have that true "reading for the first time anew!" feeling, and I don't honestly miss it. The second time around is just as good, and it also makes the original read somehow...more precious? More important? Idk. I do get nostalgic for "that time I read this for the first time", though.

Rereading: Yay or Nay?

And then there's the last thing: that I'd be a different person if I "forgot" the books. I read the Harry Potter series as they came out, from ages 6 to 16. I'd be a totally different, far less fantabulous moi if I hadn't absorbed and obsessed over those books in my formative years. I don't want to read Harry Potter for the first time again. I want to reread it for the forty billionth time and carve those words into my soul juuust a little bit deeper.

Okay, this got weirdly deeep on me. I blame my upcoming birthday (a day I'm not hugely fond of) for making me all introspective and angsty and oh god, I'm old, bring me my walker and hot water bottle.

And now I just REALLY, REALLY WANT TO REREAD HARRY POTTER. The eternal struggle. Do I read new books? Or read Harry Potter? Do I have a life? Or do I just read Harry Potter. (HA. That last one is a trick question. Life IS reading Harry Potter.)


  1. I actually really love this! I don't think I've ever thoroughly thought about reading something again for the first time, but the more I think about it, especially having read your post, I realize that I completely agree with you. Time and place are such important things to a reading experience.

    Like you, I remember getting Harry Potter at midnight, then staying up for hours reading, having essentially a nap, and then going to my best friend's backyard to binge read the rest of the book alongside her. Those memories can feel almost as important as the actual story and it would be the weirdest thing not to have them.

    Even with books I didn't necessarily love I'll sometimes have flashbacks about when and where I read them. Strange but also kinda cool.

  2. Oh, I always thought I'd answer yes to this question, but now I am not so sure! Lovely post!

  3. I get the comfort and joy in rereading, but I am just not a re-person. There are so many books on my TBR, and only so much time on this earth to read them. I just cannot imagine missing out on something new, because I was reading a story I already know. I do not re-watch TV shows or movies either, sort of for the same reason.
    Sam @ WLABB

  4. This one is SO hard for me. I don't think I thought about what I'd lose if I got to read again for the first time. Because you're right - the first time I read P&P was SO important bc, like Elizabeth, I hated the book at the beginning and gradually fell in love. The first time I read HP, I was on a plane and devoured it and spent a jetlagged week reading the entire rest of the series. The first time I read LOTR, I was in the middle of college exams and it was my reprieve.

    There's something magical about the fact that you only get one first time. We place such emphasis on it in our sexual lives, which I find hilarious because for most people, it's not THAT special. Whereas with books, it really is that momentous when we meet a book we'll love forever.

    I do not know how this got onto sex. Wait, yes I do. =P

  5. I've never actually thought about it. While I would LOVE to experience the thrill of being surprised by my favorite twisty turny books again, I do TOTALLY agree with you about the time and place of that first reading being so important. Sooo ... I don't know. And I'm kind of glad it's a moot point!

  6. God, you and I are so synchronized on so many things lol
    I wouldn't want to erase my memories and read a book for the first time again for the exact same reasons. Time and place are important, and my first read of books shapes so much of me and the way I think of a book.The nostalgia factor is a really wonderful too, and I adore re-reading. It's almost more fun for me to re-read than read a book the first time, because in my head the first time is sacred but the re-read is where I truly study the novel and find all the little nooks and crannies :) And how I glory in finding those haha

  7. I 100% agree with you. There are times when I wish I could re-read certain series - namely Harry Potter - over again for the first time. To experience the magic again for the first time. But then I'm like... No. Because reading them for the first time NOW would mean losing all the incredible memories I made reading them in the first place (just like you said). I don't want to lose those memories. Like you, I can remember where and when I was when I read certain books for the first time, or i have very specific and precious memories from reading them for the first time. These are the books that shaped me as a reader and I don't want to lose that, ever. And like you said, re-reading IS a thing. So there's always that :)

    Great post!

  8. Ohhh, I love your argument about the circumstances in which you're reading and how they play into/become associated with your appreciation of a book. I've never thought about it like that, but it's so true. Especially when binging, because I would n e v e r want to give up that sloppy, murky week when I was a half-creature whose life consisted of spending every waking hour consuming the Seven Realms series (kinda dramatic but not exactly untrue) or reading Kate Daniels deep into the night OR THAT PANG I FEEL EVERY TIME DURING THE LYDIA/SEB BEACH SCENE IN TYOSA AND THEN WHEN SHE SHUTS DOWN ON HIM AFTER FINDING OUT ABOUT THE ~BETRAYAL AND THEN AGAIN WHEN I REALISE I HAVE FELT THAT EXACT SAME PANG DURING ALL THESE MOMENTS WITH EVERY PREVIOUS READ. Ahem.

    So I'm with you in that I wouldn't want to erase the first time, with one exception: Froi of the Exiles. I'M SORRY I'M A TRAITOR TO THE FANDOM PROBABLY but knowing how everything is going to end took some of the tension and agony out of the developing Froi/Quintana relationship for me and apparently some of my investment is based on that (I have issues, well aware). BUT I love rereading so much exactly because it isn't the first time, and you notice so much more about the characters, the way arcs are set up and tension is built, FORESHADOWING (THE BEST DISCOVERY), etc. And I always become so much more fond of everything because of these little clues and details. Omg or those books when everything is practically laid out on the first page and you're like how.....did....I..possibly........miss...this....???? Authorial witchcraft.

    Btw I don't know if you've noticed (and feel free to delete this comment because it's a bit jerkish to point out) but just now when I went to your blog your template and header wasn't showing up and instead there's a picture of a kitten with "picture not found" front and centre where your header used to be.

    Thinking of you this week <33


  9. For me its not possible to read a book again as if i am reading it for first time cause of the cognitive image that book once built would appear and then i will know what is gonna happen next taking out the whole fun of expectations...


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