In early December every year, I listen to Circe by Madeline Miller. This ritual evolved organically, like so many rituals do. I read the book in print when it came out in 2018, and I loved it so much that I read it again on audio that fall. Then, the following year, I listened to it again — again, in the late fall, though I didn’t think much of it at the time. I’ve listened to it every December since then, at first because I found myself craving it, always at the beginning of winter (or, as I like to call it, the Season of Light), and later because it had become a vital part of my year. This year’s reread is my sixth.
There are dozens of reasons I love reading Circe at the same time every year. It’s a novel about becoming — the work and mess and care it takes to become yourself. Winter, for me, is also a season of becoming. It’s a time of settling in and taking stock, of deep reflection and contemplation. So much of becoming begins, for me, in the quiet stillness of winter. I am not religious, but December is my most sacred month. Circe is not my favorite novel, but it is one of my most sacred ones. The book and the season go together in weird and mysterious ways I can’t necessarily explain. It’s deeply personal. This rereading ritual is tied up in everything I love about the bare trees and the coming snow, the Season of Light, and the shortening days. It has to do with how I, specifically, move through the world. It has to do with what Circe means to me — the spells it ignites, the magic its words spark inside me.
Though I’ve always been a rereader, the power of this annual reread has surprised me. It’s not just something that I look forward to every year. It’s something that grounds and energizes me. Circe is how I welcome winter. It has become a seasonal marker, a way to honor and celebrate change. It’s enjoyable (I truly love this book more than I can say), but it’s also an anchor. Every year, the book hits me differently. Every year, the book is familiar. Sometimes, December rolls around, and I feel mostly in control of my little life. Sometimes December rolls around, and I’m in the midst of personal turmoil, unmoored and lost. The world we live in is so fraught, so heartbreaking, so exhausting. Rereading Circe in the first week of December is a welcome constant — but a constant that is never the same.
My annual reread of Circe has become such a treasured part of my reading life that I’ve begun thinking about seasonal rereading rituals more broadly. What would it feel like to have a book like Circe for every season — a book to welcome spring, summer, and fall? How might seasonal rereads enrich my life in other ways? I’ve started to imagine a whole year of rereads, a collection of beloved words to guide me through the year. I know these sorts of rituals take time to build. There are only so many books I want to reread every year — indefinitely. But there are so many rich rewards in this kind of deliberate, cyclical rereading. I’d like to slowly build up my calendar of rereads, adding new seasonal rituals each year.
In 2021, I read Vivek Shraya’s wonderful ode to change and transformation, People Change, on January 1st. It’s a short book — about 100 pages — and easy to read in a day. It was the perfect way to start the new year. In it, Shraya addresses why we are so often afraid of change and offers new ways to think about both change itself and the versions of ourselves we leave behind in the process of changing. I didn’t reread it this year, but I’ve been thinking about it. I’m planning to reread it on January 24th, 2024, to see how it feels. This, I’ve learned, is often how ritual-building goes: you think about something, you try it out, you see how it goes. Sometimes it sticks. If it doesn’t — you can let it go.
I’m imagining a bookish year in which I welcome spring with Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer and summer with Cantoras by Caro De Robertis and get myself through the toughest month (for me, July) with Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights. I’m imagining starting The Sealey Challenge every August with The Trees Witness Everything by Victoria Chang. I’m imagining what it might feel like to read Edinburgh by Alexander Chee every November.
I know that not all of these imagined rereads of beloved books will stick. I may decide to read People Change on the first of January every year and find, three years later, that the ritual no longer serves me. I’m not interested in creating a schedule of prescribed rereads that I force myself to adhere to. I’m interested in listening deeply to seasonal shifts — in my body and in the world around me — and matching those shifts with books. I haven’t gotten tired of rereading Circe yet, and I doubt I ever will, but if I do, I’ll gently lay that ritual down and find a new one. The true beauty and power of seasonal rereading rituals is in the way they connect me to my life and the lives of my human and nonhuman kin — past, present, and future.