Over the festive period, I love reading. It’s a great chance to catch up and scramble to tick off all those titles you promised yourself you’d get around to reading that year. And also who doesn’t love going into the new year feeling all smug and bookish? (Cause it gives you a free pass to watch more Netflix instead of reading when the inevitable January blues come along.)
I re-read quite a few titles in 2021 (in no particular order): Glennon Doyle’s Untamed, Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending, Dr. Edith Eger’s The Gift, Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, Anthony Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha, André Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name and Massimo Pigliucci’s How to Be a Stoic.
Now you might be thinking: What a waste of time! You could have read so many other things in that time.
You’re not wrong. But also, you’re wrong.
What I’ve found through revisiting books, particularly non-fiction, is that while I’m reading the same material again, I’m processing it in a new way. All of those ideas are absorbed by my mind in a much richer, deeper way to the extent I can begin applying those insights to my life, rather than letting them fly right over my head. This may seem like a common observation, but I really feel like the words sink into you more personally and stick. They strike a much more resonating chord. The words come back to revisit you throughout the day at moments when you need them the most. Those punchy snippets that made you think absently the first time but perhaps seeped out of your head that very same day are the same ones that are echoed through your days having read, if not studied, those books again.
It’s such a simple – and overlooked – way to deepen your knowledge on something. You may remember various passages that gripped you initially which end up hitting home even more – for me I underline/write these down and come back to them when I need them. The words feel more like a steadfast foundation of support rather than a fleeting whoosh of an idea that you may never think about again.
Some examples I had which especially resonated was one passage from Glennon Doyle’s incredible, empowering, shocking, rattling book, Untamed:
It turned out what I needed most was inside the one place I’d been running from my entire life: pain. Everything I needed to know next was inside the discomfort of now. As I practiced allowing my hard feelings to come and stay as long as they needed to, I got to know myself. The reward for enduring hard feelings was finding my potential, my purpose, and my people… I can’t imagine a greater tragedy than remaining forever unknown to myself. That would be the ultimate self-abandonment. So I have become unafraid of my own feelings. Now when hard feelings ring the bell, I put on my big-girl pants and answer the door.Glennon Doyle, Untamed (London: Vermillion, 2020) p. 261.
And from an equally empowering book, but perhaps more softly so, are some nuggets of gold from holocaust survivor Dr. Edith Eger’s The Gift:
The language of fear is the language of resistance. And if we’re resisting, we’re working very hard to ensure that we go nowhere. We deny growth and curiosity. We’re revolving, not evolving.Dr. Edith Eger, The Gift (London: Rider, 2020) p. 138
When you’re free, you take responsibility for who you really are… you reconnect with the parts of yourself you had to give up… You break the habit of abandoning yourself.P. 66/67
With feelings there’s not way out but through. We have to be with them. It takes so much courage to be, without having to do anything about anything – to just simply be.P. 46
‘A feeling is just a feeling, it’s not your identity.’P. 35
And my favourite…
‘If you sit with one butt on two chairs, you become half-assed.’P. 71
I mean… take a moment to let all of that sink in. The more you read this kind of stuff, the more likely you will start to live by the same things and your lens through which you view life will shift. We’re humans. We love repetition, we love patterns – they’re predictable. And what’s better than making empowering, healing knowledge part of your day-to-day thought patterns?
Most of the books I revisited that shook me the most were non-fiction. But the fiction books I reread had the opposite effect. They softened me. The nostalgia of coming back to a place you’ve been already, but perhaps a year or so later when you yourself have grown and changed, makes you reflect on just that. How you perceive certain ideas or characters or events now, a kind of soft grief unravelling for who you used to be; how you used to think, what might have happened to be the catalyst of that change, no matter how subtle or obvious. It’s why I always reread Memoirs of a Geisha every summer – it’s a reminder of not just how beautiful the story and prose is, but how my perspective has evolved over the last year, how my curiosity has deepened. And loads of other mushy shit, as you can imagine.
So if you have *those* books that you absolutely adored or inhaled in a day or two, I encourage you to read them again! And again! See! It’s even there in the word – a gain!!! There really is nothing to lose but the time you spend dawdling on whether or not you should read it again. If you think it would be boring because you already know what happens, trust me, it will be the opposite.
And with all of the above, I really do stand by that we read once for information, twice for transformation. (And might I suggest one could lightly skim over something for inspiration!) There will always be new layers to peel back as you grow older and experience new things. And it will amaze you at how you can learn new tricks from an old dog (or book, in this case). Read something once and it will catch your attention. Read it again and it will give that same attention the momentum to change you.