Exam season is stressful for everyone. At a time when your brain is taking in new content constantly, it is comforting to return to familiarity. Re-reading a book can feel like revisiting a calming place, somewhere you know like the back of your hand, where there are no surprises, and the known ending is guaranteed. Allowing yourself to tread the path of a familiar story can be a great source of low-effort entertainment to unwind after a heavy day of revision.
There is a sense of security in re-reading which comes from already knowing the content, but I also find that books offer something new every time you read them. Literature can be interpreted in endless different ways and a lot of ourselves — our values, beliefs and worldview — goes into how we react to a book. I have re-read books I originally hated and they have become my favourites, not because the content has changed, but because I have. On re-reading, characters that seemed unrelatable can become understandable, and events that seemed foreign take on a new relevance when you have experienced them yourself. Personally, I find it comforting to re-read a book and realise how much I have changed since I first picked it up: it gives me the long-term perspective that I often lose, especially in exam season.
I find classics lend themselves to re-reading and I have returned to Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca several times over the years. The atmosphere of the book drags me in each time, allowing me to lose myself and my worries for a little bit. Of course, I know the answer to the mystery that forms the backbone of the story, but watching it unfold from a place of knowledge is simply a different experience, not a bad one.
If you are looking for something more contemporary, I found that Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin offered an invaluable perspective on how my own life had changed since the first time I read it. It is a reflective narrative about the off-season in a seaside town that borders North Korea and is a quiet but intense examination of human relationships.
There can be a perception, in this age of endless GoodReads goals and lists of ‘100 books to read by the age of 30’, that you need to be constantly reading new books. However, this is not a standard we hold for any other form of art or entertainment. No-one would ever suggest that you only listen to your favourite song once because there are so many other songs to listen to. I think we should try to avoid falling into this trap of endless consumption. We should not view books as tasks to be completed, but as forms of art like any other. They are to be returned to and savoured, with the same attitude we hold towards paintings, music and films. So, if you are in need of some comfort this exam season, try re-reading an old favourite.
Image: Kourosh Qaffari via Unplash