I have always been a rereader. In fact, my very first Book Riot article was about my love of rereading books. There is just something so comforting about sinking back into a familiar world. I always enjoy trying to remember what happens next, or making connections I never did the first (or even second time around). But sometimes rereading a book doesn’t bring back the warm fuzzy feeling I’m looking for.
Most of the books I reread are books I loved in middle and high school. In fact, each year I pick a series from my youth that I loved to read again. And while some of these books are just as magical as they were when I was young, some are painful to revisit. A lot of the times they “didn’t age well” or were just incredibly problematic even at the time I read them.
Since I’ve been putting in the effort to reread books a lot more in recent years I’ve been questioning my taste a lot. Some of these books just aren’t great, or I read them without understanding a single word because it made me look cool or smart. And some of these books were just straight up problematic and should not have been published. Revisiting the bad books has made me hesitant to read other books I loved because I’m scared. I don’t want to lose the memory of how those books made me feel! So I came up with a plan for myself.
When rereading, I’ve started to ask myself some questions. This practice helps me understand what drew me in to the book in the first place, and helps explain why I was the kind of reader I was. The questions also help me wrestle with how to react to a problematic old fave.
Did I actually like this book or was I just having a gender crisis that I couldn’t yet identify as such?
As a middle schooler I went through a huge “I’m not like the other girls” phase. I liked superheroes, and Star Trek, and hated boy bands. And while all of these things are still true about me, I’ve learned to embrace traditionally feminine things that I used to hate. This had included the books I chose to read or skip as a kid. I desperately want to read the “girly” books that I scoffed at as a child. They might have actually been good! But the covers were pink and had glitter so that was an instant pass for me.
Instead, I read a lot of books that I thought made me different. I read a lot of books that were “boy books” because, again, I was totally not like other girls. And the thing is some of those books were just not enjoyable. Like, I’m sorry. I loved Ben Ten! Fantastic show, I’m rewatching it now! The Ben Ten books were simply not it for me. But I read them all because I wanted to engage with femininity as little as possible. I started my reread and instantly realized these books were not for me now. And to be honest, I’m not sure they ever were.
On the flip side, of course, there are books I adored and never would have found if I only read the “girl” books that were pushed to me. The Rangers Apprentice was a banger series, and it had swords and blood, and fighting and stuff! And now I’m actually a fan again. To me, this is a series that is well worth the reread risk because the time I had reading it was so much fun!
This book is problematic! What’s the best way to engage with it moving forward?
I must confess I was a Little House on the Prairie fan in elementary school. My great great uncle actually worked on Grace Ingell’s farm when she was an older woman, and I lived in Minnesota so I almost had a parasocial relationship with the books. I have clear memories of my mom reading them to me and us discussing Minnesota wild life as a result.
These books are also incredibly racist towards Native Americans. Later in her life, Wilder did apologize for the anti-Indigenous sentiments in her work, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are there.
Another favorite of mine growing up was Because of Winn-Dixie, which I recently reread for my grad program. This book very liberally uses the R slur and glorifies an incredibly racist book. The book has been edited to be less hateful, but that doesn’t change the fact that the version I read as a kid was problematic.
Kate DiCamillo also worked at the bookstore close to my house. My mother often tells the story of her and I buying books from DiCamillo who then closed down the register to go do a reading of one of her books in the same store.
I’m very aware that these two books and their issues are well known in bookish communities. I’m not reinventing the wheel with the realizations I had about them later in life. I even have connections with both of the authors of these books! What am I supposed to even do with that? The short answer is: I really don’t know. I won’t support or recommend these books to others, and I’ve realized that there are books that mean more to me and that deserve being revisited.
Now that I know I hate it, what do I do?
With both the books mentioned in the previous section, and others that I refuse to even name, I’ve gotten rid of all my copies of the books. I always donate the books that no longer hold joy for me. But, for the books that have hateful material, I love giving them another life. So I lovingly disassemble and recycle them so that they can be made into something new. It’s a very cathartic process, and I highly recommend it.
I’ve also seen people who are far craftier than I change these books into beautiful works of art. I think that is a wonderful way of taking something you once loved and breathing new life into it.
To wrap it all up:
Revisiting old favorites can be a shot in the dark sometimes. You may love them, you may hate them. You may question what you ever saw in them, or wonder how they were ever allowed to be published. Sometimes, they may even give insight into the you that you were but have since forgotten about.
No matter how you find yourself reacting to a reread, I hope you know that it’s okay. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person with bad taste because you read a bad book when you were young. I promise! If it means anything, it means that there are new favorites on the horizon. And I think that’s a pretty good thing.