Losing the Magic: Books I’m Afraid to Re-Read

There are books that have defined moments in my life, books which have carved out pieces of my heart and took up unapologetic residence. I have this irrational fear (so many of my posts here are based on my reading irrationalities) that if I re-read it, I’ll lose the magic of that book. I don’t want to tarnish the memories. Each re-read of a book speaks to you differently, and I want to hold onto exactly how these books spoke to me at a specific moment in time. So here are just a few books that were milestones in my world, reading-wise or otherwise, that I’m wary of picking up again:

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky was a revelation to my angsty, melodramatic soul when I read it at 16. It was one of the first books I ever took a highlighter to for nonacademic reasons. I immediately went out and bought all the other published-to-that-point MTV Books. But to this day, over ten years later, I’ve never re-read it. I’m afraid I’ll hate it, or find it saccharine.

Persuasion, Jane Austen. I read this during a rough patch in my then-young marriage. I was married at 19, and over the first few years we both grew up (like you do). I can safely say that we’ve both been married to several different people during our seven years together, and sometimes, those people were supremely annoying. Persuasion– a book about two people who have grown and matured over years apart and then rekindle their romance- got me through one of those supremely annoying moments. Now it’s a talisman for our relationship, and I’m worried that if I re-read it now without a relationship crisis, it won’t mean as much. And I want it to.

Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky. One of the first Really Hard Books I ever read and loved, and felt like I UNDERSTOOD. I put WORK into this book and got REWARD. I am an intellectual giant (said my then-self)! Well, now I’m used to doing the work of more difficult books- will I just find this boring or tedious?

All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque. I read this my junior year of high school during our World War I unit, and it made me horrified of war more than any history book I’d ever read. I mark the reading of this book as one of the moments I became “un-teenager,” or actually aware of and made soul-sick by parts of humanity. I’m afraid that if I go back to this, I’ll find that I’m too jaded or cynical to still be that horrified.

Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut. So dark! So funny! Books can be dark and smart and funny and still be serious without being melodramatic or histrionic! But if I read it now, will I still find it dark and smart and funny, or silly and sort of meh-ly written? I don’t want to know!

Am I alone here? Are there books you don’t want to re-read because they might lose their magic, or because the memory is so perfect?

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Celeste Ng, Jesmyn Ward, and Robin Sloan recommend their favorite books in our newest podcast, Recommended. Download it for free from Apple Podcasts or Google Play.
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