Book Shelf: Why I Re-Read

Harry_Potter_and_the_Half-Blood_Prince_(US_cover)

Back in January I started the great re-reading of Harry Potter. It had been about four years since I had last read the books and something was calling out to me that it was time to go back. I feel that three to four years is a good separation from re-reads. When I first started reading the Dark Tower series I was reading them every summer without fail for years (which is a large part of why I can’t remember how many times I’ve read those books), but at the time there were only four novels. It came to a point where my enjoyment of the book was effected. Don’t get me wrong I still loved the series with a firey passion but things had started to become routine. It was systematic which kind of sucked the joy out of it a little. So after one last re-read I put them down and didn’t pick them up for four years. Four years. I wanted to give my mind the time to appreciate the story again. Although this time gap didn’t come without some fear. What if after all this time the books didn’t resonate the same way? What if I out grew the story? But after four long years without Roland, Eddie, Jake, Sussanah, and Oy I picked up the Gunslinger and it was like coming home. If anything the story improved because of the four years in between. I was not the same person I was when I last read and I was able to pull different things from this reading experience. The time apart made my bond with the story even stronger.

My time apart from Harry Potter was similar. I can vividly remember the last time I read this series as it was the start of a difficult life transition. I was on the Goblet of Fire when my father was diagnosed with brain cancer. I remember being in the hospital waiting room reading to escape for a little. I was in a small room with a small TV sitting on a group of chairs that were connected with my foot up. The image is burnt into my mind. I remember finishing the Order of the Phoenix while waiting in an airport to pick up my ex-wife (she was my current wife at the time). I was upstairs (in the wrong terminal too) and there was no one around. I sat by a large window overlooking the parking lot as I steamed rolled to the end. I remember being in our apartment in our bed while she was in the living room as I finished the Deathly Hallows. I remember being so overcome by the ending that I had difficulty getting comfortable. I kept switching positions. Throughout this time my father was sick, I was in a job that I absolutely hated, and my marriage was starting the slow climb to disintegrating, but I had these books. These wonderful, wonderful books to help me lose myself a bit. When I finished I put them in their collectors case (I have that awesome paperback collection) and didn’t see them again for four years.

Then I started to get the itch. It was around last year where I started to entertain the idea of re-reading them. But I have this weird thing about me. If I’m going to start a long series, especially a re-reading, I want to start at the beginning of the year. For reasons I can’t fully explain, starting a long book series, that I’ve already read, in the middle of year just feels wrong and uncomfortable. So I waited and decided that this year was going to be the year that I went back to Hogwarts. That the time had come to associate new memories to the reading experience.

Don’t get me wrong I wasn’t trying to purge the last time I read the books from memory. I will always remember being in that hospital wing reading the Goblet of Fire. I will always remember sitting in that deserted airport listening to Harry scream at Dumbledore. But now that enough time has passed I’ve been looking to add new associations to the reading. And that’s one of the great things about reading things over. You get this chance to re-experience or re-visit these different times in your life. It allows you to reflect on who you are and where you were. Re-reading books isn’t just about re-reading a story that you love but it’s a way to take stock in who you are and what you’ve become. Think about it for a second. I can tell you exactly where I was and what I was doing when I first read the conclusion of the Dark Tower series. I was in Florida with my feet in the sand with my family and my girlfriend at the time. I remember closing the book and staring out at the water trying to process what had just happened. The list of emotions were countless. That ending. Actually seeing the conclusion of the series. Tons of thoughts ran through my head. The next time I finished that book I was courting my ex-wife and trying to get her to read the series as we stayed up late nights, smoking cigarettes, drinking beer, and discussing theories and characters. Every time I read that book I’m reminded of those things.

It’s funny, I read a quote once about books. I’m paraphrasing here, but it said I love looking at my shelf of books or re-reading my books because for me it’s the closest I get to time traveling, and it’s so true. Reading is more than just the stories your eyeholes swallow up. Good stories resonate not just in words but in life experiences. One of my co-workers asked me this week why I re-read books. It’s a great question to ask someone. I told her everything I said here. That reading these books over again allows me to experience the story differently because I’m a different person. I get to pull new things from them and experience them with eyes and emotions that have been through more. That re-reading books doesn’t just allow me to spend time with friends (characters) but it allows me to spend time with myself.

Hopefully tomorrow I’ll begin reading the Deathly Hallows and it’s so bittersweet. I’m not entirely sure if I’m ready to say goodbye to Harry and his friends just yet. This re-reading has been such a tremendous experience for me as I’ve fallen in love with these books in such a different way. I’ve experienced them in a way that seems just for me. I don’t know if that sounds weird or not but it makes sense to me. I’ve shared my thoughts with friends and family as I’ve been reading (hiiiii Jen, Michael, and Jen!!!) but for the most part this re-reading has been for me. And I’ve been able to discover new things about myself and the story as I’ve gone from book to book. Knowing that the end is drawing year… I don’t want that experience to end. I’ll read plenty of more books this year, but I already know that very few (if any) will have the same experience that re-reading Harry Potter has given me. I just… I just feel. And that’s such a tremendous gift.

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