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Rereading books is like meeting old friends: The characters we thought we knew challenge us to incorporate fresh understanding. “Seeing former classmates at a twenty-fifth high school reunion can come as a shock; so can reseeing a once beloved book,” observes author Patricia Meyer Spacks, who in the name of research spent one year reacquainting herself with novels first encountered in previous chapters of her life. Here, in an extract from her book On Rereading, she expounds on the simultaneous pleasures of stability and surprise derived from rereading.

If you’re a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, cousin, or friend of the family, you’ve perhaps endured the fury of a toddler compelled to listen to her favorite book with a word missed or a picture skipped. The point of the favorite book, for the listener, is that it remains the same. The more often the three-year-old hears the familiar sentences, the more content she appears. When a word changes, pleasure recedes: A beloved book has lost its identity.

Trying to account for this passion for sameness, we may say that it reveals the toddler’s need for security. In a world crammed with new experiences, exciting yet unpredictable, the child treasures what she can hold on to. If even the book turns unpredictable, she loses what she has depended on. A friend’s personality has changed. We smile grown-up smiles at the child’s demand for perfect reiteration even if we retain that childish need in more acceptable form, addicted

  • Words:
    Patricia Meyer Spacks
  • Photography:
    Kenneth Josephson

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  • Words:
    Patricia Meyer Spacks
  • Photography:
    Kenneth Josephson
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