A Case for Re-Reading by Deidra Dallas

I am an avid reader. Like I assume is the case with most avid readers, I am also an avid re-reader. Don’t get me wrong, falling in love with a new book is a joy that cannot be properly encapsulated into words. Falling in love with a new author is even more joyous. There is something mysterious and heartwarming and awe inspiring about new books.

The Little House series were the first books I remember LOVING. (Bold and italics and capitals 100% used for full effect there.) They were all that I had never realized books could be. I reveled in deciphering the words and discovering for myself this story of Laura, her Pa and Ma, and her sisters. 

There is something mysterious and heartwarming and awe inspiring about new books.

But then they were over, and there was no more Little House, and I didn’t quite know what to do with myself. How could they just be over? Finishing a book is more heartbreaking than almost anything I’ve ever encountered (unless it’s finishing a book series). It’s like simultaneously having to attend the funeral of/go through a breakup with 20 people. 

The only way to soothe yourself is to lose yourself in other books, books like Anne of Green Gables and Harry Potter and hundreds and hundreds of others. I could not begin to tally for you the number of books I have consumed in my life. I have studied and read and re-read until I’m sure the number of minutes I have spent with a book in my nose far outnumbers the total number of minutes I have done just about anything else. 

Re-reading is the other way I have found to soothe myself after finishing a much loved book or series. I find on the re-read I discover new character traits and motivations or little turns of phrases I never noticed before. Re-reading allows me to re-experience what I first loved in a whole new way.

In my literature courses, I was taught to re-read -- you read something the first time for the content and then after that you read it to analyze. Society, though, has taught me that re-reading is something of which I should be ashamed. If you Google, you will find dozens upon dozens of articles which claim that re-reading is a waste of your brain space and that you should be expanding your mind by experiencing new things, new authors, new themes, new characters. 


They aren’t wrong, but I can’t seem to stop either. Often, I re-read when I am in need of an escape. I may be stressed or sad or just plain tired and I don’t have brain space to consume or understand something new, so I turn to old friends. 

I have re-read Little House and Harry Potter and Anne I couldn’t tell you how many times. Harry I have read annually for the last 20 plus years and I wrote extensive research papers on them in grad school. I can practically recite them. 

This year I decided upon a new re-reading method -- audiobooks. I have a weird thing with audiobooks -- I can only listen to books I have previously read. I find that my mind tends to wander when I’m listening instead of actively engaged in reading and so only if I know the book can I pick up the threads of the story again when I have mentally wandered while listening. Naturally, then, I began with Harry Potter. Next, I took up Anne

And here’s the funny thing. I love the first three books, always have. I am head over heels in love with Gilbert Blythe, and I have no qualms about admitting that publicly. The next four books, with the exception of Anne’s House of Dreams, have considerably less Gilbert, and 6 and 7 even have considerably less Anne. I enjoy the stories, but I do not love them. 

The final book in the series, Rilla of Ingleside, I must admit I have suffered through when I have tried to read it in the past. The World War I theme was interesting, but it was so far outside the world of Anne (which is admittedly the point) that as a young person, I felt no connection to the story or the characters. Rilla Blythe irritated me, and I desperately yearned for more of Anne and Gilbert’s thoughts on the horror of seeing their sons march off to war instead of their live-in Susan Baker’s. So, upon my listen, I fully expected to feel the same. 

Re-reading allows me to re-experience what I first loved in a whole new way.

But, here’s what happened -- I sobbed like a baby while hearing this particular story read aloud. 

I never once had shed a tear when it came to any of the Anne series (excepting Matthew’s death). But this time when Jem left Dog Monday at the train station, when Rilla read Walter’s last letter home before his death, when little Bruce drowned his kitten in hopes that the sacrifice would bring Jem home, and particularly when Little Dog Monday greeted his returning soldier at the end of the war, I could not contain my tears. 

And they weren’t just tears. I did that particular kind of cry where you are trying not to cry too loudly and so you are making this horribly odd sucking sound in the back of your throat while tears stream down your face. I still have not figured out why. 

Why this time -- this tenth or eleventh time that I am reliving this story -- why did it affect me so much? Was it just hearing it instead of reading it? But no, many, many books that I have read for myself have made me cry. I admit that listening gave it a different kind of poignancy, but I do not think that was it. 

I think I’m...older. I’ve grown up since the last time I read this book, and although the protagonist is a 15 year old girl at the beginning of the war and I was much closer to 15 the first time I followed her story, I can understand at 31 what I could not understand at 15. The tragedy of life, the fear of the possibility of this kind of war repeating itself again, the unforgettable knowledge that death is permanent and infects everyone -- all of that is real to me now. 

I used to think that I would only find growth by reading new things, writing new things, experiencing new things. This is not false -- the path to adulthood is paved with new things, and I rejoice in finding and learning them. But when you experience new things, you grow and change, you become new again, which means you can never look at your old life exactly the same way. You don’t relive the past, I would never suggest that, you just learn to look at past experiences differently and they color how you handle the future. 

Anne Books.jpg

Or to borrow a Rilla quote, “It's strange - isn't it - They have been two terrible years - and yet I have a queer feeling of thankfulness for them - as if they had brought me something very precious in all their pain. I wouldn't want to go back and be the girl I was two years ago not even if I could. Not that I think I've made any wonderful progress - but I'm not quite the selfish frivolous little doll I was then. I suppose I had a soul then...but I didn't know it. I know it now - and that is worth a great deal - worth all the suffering of the past few years.” 

My soul, spirit, inner self, whatever you’d like to call it, had never had to do much growing. In the last 5 years, though, it has grown a lot -- and it hurt. A lot. But, I wouldn’t trade it. Maybe it wasn’t World War I, but it was something, and because of it I have a whole new outlook.

So, I no longer feel guilty for indulging in a little re-read now and again, for everything old is made new again when we come at it with new eyes, a new life. I guess, in a way, we aren’t ever really re-reading. We’re simply getting the pleasure of reading a story for the first time again with our fresh souls. It is truly one of the most wonderfully mysterious, heart warming, and awe inspiring experiences one could ever imagine.

As Lin-Manuel's Washington Would Say "Pick Up a Pen..." by Deidra Dallas

I am returning from a two week jaunt on Prince Edward Island, Canada. The average temperature this time of year is about 20 degrees Fahrenheit (on warm days) and there was roughly five inches of snow on the ground when I arrived. Most people, both those that I know and those that I met while on PEI, thought I was crazy.

Why are you going up there this time of year? Do you realize how cold it is??

You’re going for TWO weeks by YOURSELF???????

Yes, I generally told people, I’m going to go experience real winter since we don’t have that in Texas. I’m going to see snow.


Also, and the part of me that hates being a tourist loathes this, but a bigger reason was going back to the land of Anne of Green Gables. I have been there before in the summer. It’s a different experience in the winter, and I wanted that.


And I wanted to spend my birthday traveling and doing just exactly what I wanted to do on my birthday without doing anything that anybody else wanted me to do.


But, really, if I’m being honest, I needed to get away from everything I was responsible for so that I could write. Only my very closest friends and family knew this was my ultimate goal. In fact, I didn’t have to tell them, they just knew.

“So…” Mom started after I told her I was making the trip (and we had hashed out the temperature issues). “You’re going to write, right?”

I don’t like talking about my writing. It makes me feel like a fraud.

I hesitantly replied in the affirmative.

I don’t like talking about my writing. It makes me feel like a fraud. I started off in life with all of these goals regarding writing. My whole life was, in fact, centered around writing. I wrote constantly throughout elementary junior high, and high school. I was a creative writing major at Texas Tech. And then I had what, at the time, I considered to be a major setback in that I didn’t get into the grad school of my choosing and so therefore, I rationalized, couldn’t pursue those goals anymore.

Which is pretty damned ridiculous, but when you’re 20 you do a lot of pretty damned ridiculous things.

So, I quit. I didn’t mean to; it wasn’t a conscience choice, but I allowed other things in my life to take priority and gradually, I stopped writing altogether. I somehow didn’t kill it, though. It survived in a small part of my brain and nagged at me constantly. I didn’t always hear it, but the whine was always present. I learned to ignore it over time because, well, it’s easier that way. I came up with excuses. All the standards: I’m busy, I’m tired, I’m sad.

And here’s something else I don’t like talking about: I have been incredibly sad.

It started roughly around the time I didn’t get into my grad school of choice and continued through terrible relationships I felt trapped in and career choices I felt forced into making but couldn’t see a way out of. 

Then, a year and a half ago, my grandma died.

We’d known for years this day was coming, so it didn’t come as a shock when it happened. Or it shouldn’t have. But it still shocked my system. This woman – who had a litany of faults that sometimes made her unbearable to be around, just so it’s clear I don’t hero worship her – shaped so much of who I have become, and I didn’t even realize it. Until I was writing her eulogy.

This woman taught me independence and spunk and not giving a shit about other people’s opinions of what they think you should be. I learned to love reading and theatre and travel watching her. (She also taught me not to be hateful and bitter and racist, but not because she wasn’t those things, so I don’t want to dwell there.)

And the moment that she left us and I had to write a eulogy for my last living grandparent, it broke me. Or rather, it broke the barrier I had built to drown out the whine that kept nagging at me to write, write, write, write, write.

It didn’t happen overnight because depression (ah, you scary, scary word) doesn’t work that way. But eventually, I clawed my way back to my original life’s goals. Wrote my way out, as it were. (BTW, if you haven’t yet, go listen to Hamilton. You’re welcome.)

I am no longer defined by the arbitrary failure of not being accepted into grad school 11 years ago.

I am no longer defined by the shitty relationships I subjected myself to.

I am no longer defined by a career that I hated.

I defy all of those things and instead proudly announce that over the last two weeks on beautiful PEI, I wrote over 20,000 words (equal to what I’ve done in the last four months at home) and am almost halfway through a novel. My newest goal is to finish a draft by the end of May.

Write hard and clear about what hurts.
— Ernest Hemingway

I am still not comfortable talking about it (so please don’t ask me unless I bring it up – like, I don’t want to talk about what it’s about yet), but I am taking baby steps.

I am also following the advice of Hemingway: Write hard and clear about what hurts.

That’s my phone background so I’m reminded every day. My lock screen says “Everything that you’re going through is preparing you for what you asked for.” Again, as a reminder of my purpose, my goals.

Maybe that’s a warning for those who may not be prepared for what I will be talking about, what I’ve gone through. Maybe that’s just life. But I don’t really care anymore. I’m done explaining myself to anyone besides myself.

I’m writing.

I’m writing.

I’m writing.

Damn. That feels so good to say.

Pick up a pen, start writing.
— Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton