Last year I stirred up some stuff (as I’m prone to do), when I admitted I very rarely reread books. You can read a blog post about it here, but the short story is, I just always have something new I want to get my hands and eyes on. It’s not something I do on purpose, I don’t actively decide that I’m never going to read a certain book ever again, it just kind of happens.
Anyway, a few people called me out and said that you have to reread books to truly understand them, so I decided to do an experiment and try.
I chose Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone as my book to reread, because of two reasons: 1 – it’s one of the few books I know I read when I was younger (15 years ago or so), and 2 – it’s on of the few books I actually have a semi-vivid memory of reading. No point in rereading something I can’t remember, right? Then it might as well be the first time I read it.
I love Harry Potter. I’ve loved it since I read the first book and I loved every book after that, and all the movies. They’re fantastic and I loved growing up around that universe.
But I was worried about reading this story again, about reliving that world. It sat so deep in me, I have such a strong connection to it, to my adolescence, I was worried I’d ruined it. What if the story wasn’t how I remembered it? Like that movie you remember being great when you were younger, and then you find it and watch it again and it just… doesn’t live up to the hype? The danger that nostalgia has clouded your memory, and that maybe it’s the memory of it, and not the thing itself you’re longing for?
I’m happy to report that I’m still myself, and that I – like 15 years ago – still thought the beginning was really slow. I remember trying to start that book 4-5 times when I first read it, because I was never truly hooked until I got to a certain point. I’ve always been one to argue against the whole ‘the-first-page-has-to-hook-the-reader’ philosophy, and I feel like this proves my point. Anyways…
The book is much shorter than I remember, and as a writer this is a point to take from J.K. Rowling’s writing. Many of the big, story-changing scenes, are so short. Scenes I remember as whole pages, whole chapters even, are just paragraphs. Bam-bam-bam, and we’re off to something new. I admired the quick pace of it, and I feel better about my own fast-paced writing as I read Harry Potter for a second time.
It’s still magical. It’s still a fantastic story, and there’s no question about how it gripped a whole generation of readers. It’s amazing.
At the same time, I feel like I’ve uprooted a childhood memory. Washed it clean of it’s dirt and grime, as if I’ve renovated a bent and battered toy I used to have when I was younger. It’s fresh and shiny now, polished to blend in to the 21st century. Is it still the same story I remember? In one sense, it feels like it’s less. It’s not as a grand, not as life-changing. The place it takes up on my shelf of life is smaller now, somehow.
I’m not going to say I regret rereading it, because it’s nice to be reminded of those memories I have with the story. But at the same time, I was very happy with the way things were, the spot I had reserved for them in the back of my mind.
In another 15 years, maybe I’ll read it again, and maybe I’ll start looking around for other stories I liked way back when, to pick them back up and reacquaint myself with them.
But I’m definitely in no rush, just like before, there are so many new stories I’d like to get my hands and eyes on, and I feel like I need to give them a chance. Rereading has its merits, but I for one, have no interest in trying too hard to relive old memories.