I love rereading books that I used to love. Nostalgia books, I suppose you could call them.
It used to never be a problem for me, but as I’ve gotten more serious about writing, and as I’m critiquing other writer’s works on a weekly basis, it’s gotten more difficult not to read things with a critical eye.
Two years ago, I made the mistake of gifting my all time favorite book to my critique partner. As I reread it after I gifted it, I started seeing areas I knew he would criticize. And he did criticize those areas, and many more I hadn’t anticipated.
Suddenly, I didn’t love the book as much as I used to. It wasn’t the perfect example of a novel that I’d thought it was. I was disappointed, and for a long time, didn’t want to read any of my old favorites, worried that I wouldn’t love them as much as I used to.
Recently, I got the urge to reread The Forbidden Game trilogy, by LJ Smith. Without overthinking it, I started the first one.
I ended up reading it in two minds. My critical reader found all the flaws. (And there are flaws.) But my nostalgic reader found all the reasons I’d always loved it. And my nostalgic reader was louder.
It’s easy to find the flaws in something, to pick it apart, to criticize. That’s why anyone can do it.
And as a writer, it’s important that I can be constructively critical to my work and to the work of other writers who want to improve. Sometimes, as a reader, it’s important to do too. It’s good practice, and helps judge what works and what doesn’t.
But there are sometimes when I don’t want to pick things apart or find ways to improve something. Sometimes I just want to enjoy it, recapture that uncomplicated pleasure that came with reading it in the past.
The meaning of a particular book and how it resonates with the reader can change over time. There have been books I’ve connected with more or less over time, depending on where I was in my life.
But I don’t ever want to get to the point where I look at a beloved book, and only see the flaws. That serves no purpose. And I certainly don’t want to avoid rereading a favorite book out of fear.
All books have magic, and magic is a personal thing. But the key is that we, as readers, have to be complicit in creating that magic. It doesn’t exist without a reader who’s willing to be immersed in the book.
A book that resonates with me, at any point in my life, doesn’t have to be perfect. That’s an unrealistic standard. If it made me feel something deeply at any point, then it was “perfect” for me at that moment.
So, from now on, when I’m rereading a book, I’m going to keep in mind that it’s okay for it to have flaws, and those flaws don’t diminish its value one bit.
After all, at one point, I didn’t even see the flaws. They were always there, but I was so immersed in magic that I missed them. And I’m not going to let anyone take that away from me… not even myself.