One of my favorite summer traditions is not dependent on sunny, dry weather. It costs little to no money. And it fills my heart with more joy than watching contestants from The Bachelorette duke it out over a woman who has no intention of actually marrying a dude she became engaged to after six short weeks of simultaneously dating him and 24 other dudes.
That’s right: one of my favorite summer traditions is rereading a favorite book from my childhood.
This tradition began after a beloved mentor/friend, Maureen Barbieri, assigned my classmates and I to read–or, as it were, to reread–Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird five years ago as part of her Children’s Literature class at the University of New Hampshire. It had been nearly twenty years since I had first read this masterpiece of a novel, and the moment I was re-transported into the sepia-tinted world of Scout, Jem, and Atticus Finch, I was hooked. Again. I carried my copy around in the crook of my arm for the three days it took me to devour all 323 words of the 50th anniversary edition of the book, willing my children to nap, my husband to return home from work on time, and the kids’ bedtime routine to go smoothly so I could get back to the treasure that Maureen had re-gifted me that precious summer.
The experience of rereading a book I had loved as a teenager had so enamored me that, immediately after finishing TKAM, I made an unspoken promise to myself that I would reread a childhood favorite every summer from there on out.
As educators, we know that there are real, research-proven benefits to rereading, although most of the research has been focused on the rereading of shorter chunks of text (summarized nicely here on Russ Walsh’s blog, Russ on Reading). A study that is mind-numbingly titled “The Temporal and Focal Dynamics of Volitional Reconsumption: A Phenomenological Investigation of Repeated Hedonic Experiences,” published in the March 20, 2012 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research, looked more broadly at rereading whole texts (as well as at re-watching movies and re-visiting geographical locales) and its benefits to one’s mental health. But at the risk of sounding trite or less “research-based,” I wanted to share with you my personal reasons for why this tradition of rereading a favorite childhood book each summer is one that I would recommend to others–namely, to you and your students.
1. It’s a sure thing.
I have this weird anxiety about books. When I finish an amazing book, I get nervous that the next book I dive into won’t be as good. (I don’t think I’m alone in this neurosis, but you never know.) Rereading a book now that I loved as an adolescent, though, is a sure thing–much like that Bachelorette contestant who’s awarded the rose on a group date. So when I reread Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley High #1: Double Love two summers ago, I was confident that immersing myself in the world of twin sisters Jessica and Elizabeth would feel as sweet as running my hands over the candy-colored spines on my bookshelf felt as a kid.
2. I inevitably discover something new.
This was surely the case with To Kill a Mockingbird, as upon my second reading of the novel five summers ago I had acquired nearly twenty years of life experience, which helped me to engage in the book in a deeper, more meaningful way. I knew the basic plot line, had watched the film version a handful of times since my first reading, and thus was able to pick up upon concepts I either hadn’t noticed before or that hadn’t resonated with my sixteen year-old self (such as Scout’s frustration with her school curriculum and her clueless teacher, Miss Caroline). This was just as true in the case of Sweet Valley High: Double Love as I gleefully observed the author’s unparalleled use of the word “dazzling” to describe the more outgoing of the two sisters.
3. I rediscover something I loved the first (or second, or third) time.
In reference to Judy Blume’s Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, I present to you Exhibit A. Repeat after me (elbows up!):
We must…we must…we must increase our bust!
That right there is gold, people! GOLD.
4. I am able to comprehend so much more.
Have any of you read one of my very first public library finds, Ellen Conford’s To All My Fans, with Love, From Sylvie? I must have devoured this retro-fabulous coming-of-age story a dozen times as a kid, and yet I never quite understood exactly what Sylvie was running away (to the golden streets of 1950s Hollywood) from. I knew her so-called “Uncle Ted” was kind of a jerk, and that his eyes lingered far too long on Sylvie’s baby-doll nightie in Chapter 1, but my twelve year-old brain couldn’t entirely comprehend the seriousness of Sylvie’s “conundrum,” if you will. (You can read more about this under-appreciated classic here on Jezebel.com.) Needless to say, I get it now. And it makes my reading of To All My Fans… all the more breathless as I root for Sylvie to escape her foster-home life and realize her dream of becoming the next Hollywood darling.
5. It’s quick.
If you, like me, have a TBR (To Be Read) stack that towers over your head, rereading an old favorite–as long as it’s part of your TBR stack–is a quick way to shorten it in no time. Partially because it’s a reread, and partially because it’s a guaranteed winner, the familiar book is one that can be polished off quickly. This year I began rereading S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders during a family beach jaunt, and by 9:00 pm that evening had happily closed the book onto my chest with a satisfied sigh. And I have kids, y’all. Plus a 20 year-old German exchange student. Not to mention a husband who works long hours. So for me, a quick read = a good read, especially during the beach-going, pool-hopping, sleepover-filled days of summer.
6. I’m instantly transported back in time.
Adolescence was great, wasn’t it? I mean, it totally sucked, too, if you consider the pimples, the frizzy perms, and the overall angst, but–if you look back on it through hazy, 40 year-old lenses–it was, overall, pretty sweet. When I open up a worn copy of Tiger Eyes and stretch out onto my hammock, I might as well have taken a trip in a DeLorean DMC-12 to 1989, for all intents and purposes. Rereading these childhood favorites each summer is like savoring a favorite meal my Grammy used to make (minus the sautéed onions). Internally, I am transported back to the carefree, fun-filled, eat-all-the-ice-cream-I-want-’cause-I’ll-burn-it-off-biking-all-over-town days of my youth. And it rocks.
You can, of course, be totally chill about which editions of these books you reread, or you can be a neurotic psycho like me and hunt down the editions you loved as a kid (complete with original cover art). Whatever you decide, I would love for you to share with me your experience revisiting a favorite childhood book–or at the very least, which titles you hope to reacquaint yourself with. Until then…stay gold.