The Case for Rereading Novels: A Guest Post


Rereading novels is one of my favorite memories of childhood. Curled up with an old friend, each time I got lost in a story, I’d learn new things about life through the characters. From classics like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn to easy reads like Peanut Butter and Jelly, rereading was a rhythm of my reading life. It’s only been a recent change that I’ve stopped the practice and I miss it a lot.

Our guest author Melissa Chan, the designer of Literary Book Gifts, makes the case for rereading. Check out her shop for some great bookish gifts and scroll to the bottom for a special offer!

The Case for Rereading Novels

These days, with the sheer quantity of new novels coming out every day it can seem like one needs to devour books at the speed of light just to keep up. It can even be a challenge to only read all the current bestsellers, let alone any other books that catch your interest. Choosing where to devote your reading attention is a far more time-consuming task than just picking up a book and diving right in. I am a big supporter of diversifying one’s reading list to include titles and authors of all genres. Reading books by more than just one author will help you expand your horizon to find books you would never have thought you might have enjoyed. However, I love rereading books as well.

When there are so many new titles out there it can seem like a waste of time to read novels you have already read. Here are a few of the reasons why I personally love rereading novels. Perhaps it will get you thinking about picking up one of your favorite books again.

Themes are stronger the second time

I think most of us would agree that the very best books have timeless stories and themes that stay with us long after we put the book down. I’ve been fascinated when rereading passages of Moby Dick by Herman Melville at just how much I had missed during the first read through. In the case of Moby Dick, Melville’s writing is so descriptive and the plot so exciting that I tend to get caught up in it easily and forget about everything else. When picking up a book again for the second time, I already know what happens. This can bring more of a focus to the ideas, themes, and character development. In addition, there is time for reflection since the book was last read, allowing our minds ample time to understand, appreciate, and think through the story itself.

Rereading certain quotes or sections

Owning a few of my books in hard copy and audiobook has allowed me to mark up a few of them for my favorite quotes and passages. Books are a lot more than words. The narratives and characters can have such a powerful meaning to us. Experiencing their stories alongside our own can help us get through difficult times in our lives. Being able to quickly read a few pages from book I’ve already read can put me in a different mood right away. This is can be a big help considering that you never know what you are going to find when you open up a new book from an author whose work you’ve never read before.

Books never change, but people do

As time goes on we are different people than the ones we were when we read the book for the first time. A book to a child or teen can speak differently than to an adult. Books we read when we are young, perhaps in the school curriculum, will have entirely different meanings to us 20 or 30 years later. The lives we have lived in between influence how we read, and what we think about when we experience the story again. Reading books over a long period of time can show us how we have changed as people. Despite the words never changing in the book, people will always change and the reading experience is always a new one.

While I love rereading some of my favorite books, I don’t believe it is always the best strategy. When you are new to reading in general or to a particular genre I encourage you to explore. Find as many books as might interest you and read the first pages with an open mind. I know that I had thought I had found all of my favorite authors until I found Flannery O’Connor’s work. Her novels and selected stories are now a part of the list that I enjoy rereading all the time.

Melissa Chan is the designer of Literary Book Gifts,  an online gift shop for book lovers. She loves rereading novels, listening to audiobooks, and spending time in the library.

What about you? Are you a re-reader or is your to-read stack too high? How do you balance the comfort of old books with the discovery of new tales?

If you’re looking for bookish gifts, check out Melissa’s shop, Literary Book Gifts. She’s offering 20% off to my readers with the code ANNIERIM20. (I especially love the Tree of Life tote!)

Review: The Ministry of Ordinary Places by Shannan Martin

One of the best things I’ve learned in the past six years of staying home is that glory is found in the ordinary. Maybe it’s that I became a mom at a time when we were busy rediscovering what Madeleine L’Engle and Kathleen Norris had found the generation before: That our deepest connection to spirituality happens in the small, quotidian spaces of our very ordinary lives. We encounter God in the rhythms of folding laundry, planning meals, and leaning into the tiredness of early motherhood.

In The Ministry of Ordinary Places, Shannan Martin adds her own observations to this practice of remembering that loving our neighbor means stepping out onto our front porch. That God’s goodness is found in taco meals and walking to school.

While I was reading The Ministry of Ordinary Places, I found myself nodding along and connecting with Martin’s story. We don’t interact with folks coming out of incarceration and addiction but we do interact with our very ordinary neighbors. Martin does a good job of bringing her reader into the story, regardless of the similarities. I appreciate that I could connect even though the details may look different.

But when I put the book down, I’d easily forget about it. The lessons and takeaways just didn’t stay with me. I have a feeling this is a case of “it’s not you, it’s me.” Some books come to us at exactly the right time and this can make the most ordinary of books life-changing. Because so many of my peers have written about the ordinary spaces of life, I’ve immersed myself in this thinking. This was a good book but Martin didn’t push my thinking or make me respond with any life altering epiphanies.

I think this is fine. Some books are good in-the-moment reads. Not all books should be life-changing. (That would be exhausting!) If you’re looking for a good reminder of living a neighborly life, I’d recommend The Ministry of Ordinary Places. The very ordinariness of this book is what gives it strength.

What books have helped you remember your ordinary place? How do you connect with the everyday moments of life?

I received this book free from the publisher via BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest opinion. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Reframing How Interact with This World

There was a period in my twenties (and into my thirties) when I was part of three in-person book clubs. As a single and newly married person, this didn’t pose a problem at all. I had time to read, our schedules were flexible, and I had the mental capacity to dig into big issues. Fast forward nearly a decade and added children later and I’m no longer part of any real-life book clubs.

51+HOUEO-WL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_I had slowly quit them along the way, but the last one (that Books and Beer group) was the hardest to let go. It’s been a year since I stopped going and I know it was a good decision for my family, our schedule, and my time but being part of vibrant book clubs was a big part of my identity for a lot of years.

The next two books are ones I read with those clubs and they are books that have shifted my worldview and continue to impact the lens in which I process the world.

Published nine years ago, Half the Sky tells the stories of oppressed women from around the world. Each chapter digs deeply into a systemic condition that impacts women – from maternal death to daily safety concerns to sex trafficking and slavery. What is so powerful about this book is that the stories also tell of survival and overcoming those horrendous odds.

Journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn are committed to deep research and stunning storytelling. Even though the topics in this book are hard to digest, Kristof and WuDunn draw the reader into these stories and create empathy for women fighting for dignity and life around the world. This is a must-read for anyone wondering if women’s equality is an antiquated fight.

I read this book the year it was published so it’s been a while since I’ve read these stories and yet the impact it made on my life and the way I interact with news, especially about women, has had a lasting change.

* * *

51+3X+KL1IL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Growing up, my view of heaven was a place you go. It was for people who believed in Jesus and we would spend our days happily worshiping him. Surprised By Hope mixed up that notion and made me rethink the idea that we are just waiting here on earth for a future glory.

Theologian N.T. Wright walks the reader through the ancient roots to our theology of the afterlife. The part that stuck out to me most and has changed the way I view my own interactions with our world is the idea that heaven is really this earth, restored. It’s what Eden was meant to be. In this restored earth, we experience all God originally created for us.

Wright also talks about the idea that, in this restored earth, we do what gives us the deepest joy. That our days are indeed filled with worship but it’s not the endless church service I imagined as a child. Gardening, painting, inventing, scientific discovery are all part of the way we interact in this restored world.

I love this image so much. As I explore what gives me deep joy, I love thinking about what I could be doing for eternity, as an act of worship.

* * *

What about you? What do you imagine doing for eternity as an act of worship? 

A (1)This post is Days 13 & 14 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. You can find the entire series over at my A Literary Life page. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Changing the Way I Build My Library

This week my plan was (and still is) to focus on books of my college years and my twenties. I spent most of my twenties single and discovering life so these momentous phases link well together. Because of an unexpected family crisis, I was unable to write at the beginning of this week and this is the first year I hadn’t written a few posts ahead. (Lesson learned!) We’re all back home and doing well so I thought, rather than try to catch up, I’d batch a couple books into one post. So, today and tomorrow will be two books.

51R+D9ZxrSL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_My college years were actually spent reading texts for school, most of which were art history tomes. Life-changing in the academic sense, but really more coffee table books than anything. I got my Master’s Degree in Urban Education and it was there that I really started reading people of color and digging intentionally into books written by authors who have the same background and perspective as the protagonist.

One of my favorite books during these grad school years was The House on Mango Street. Sandra Cisneros is a masterful storyteller and her fictional characters reflect her own life experiences. The short stories follow Esperanza, a Latina girl from Chicago. I love well-written short stories and Cisneros uses this form to create a stunning narrative arc.

One of my favorite stories in the book is “Eleven,” about how we are each of the ages we’ve already lived. That story has helped me parent when my girls (and myself!) act like two-year-old or ten-year-old or even our own ages.

The House on Mango Street sparked my thesis about using our classroom libraries to reflect the backgrounds of our students. I purposefully sought out books my students could relate with and, as I raise white girls, I have intentionally filled our home library with books that don’t reflect my daughters’ experiences. It taught me to be intentional about how I stock my libraries, especially for emerging humans.

* * *

51JAnJWnbkLAfter grad school, a friend and I were talking about reading and meeting guys. We wanted to start a book club that wasn’t simply women drinking wine together so we created “Books and Beer.” Every month we met at a bar and we advertised our club on Craigslist. (In the days before Craiglist got weird!) We thought a lot about our first pick – we wanted something that was easy to read, a good discussion, and a book that guys would want to read, too. Life of Pi by Yann Martel seemed a perfect choice.

While the book itself wasn’t life-changing (though it was one of my first magical realism reads) the marker of this book club was. We met at bars for years and we did indeed meet guys who read. (Though none of our spouses came directly from book club.) Eventually, we stopped advertising on Craigslist and even stopped meeting at bars. As life changed, it became a more traditional book club of women meeting in homes, drinking wine. After 10 years, I stopped going last year but it will always hold a special place.

What I loved about this book club was finding books that fit a large audience. We never knew who would attend and so we tried hard to find books that were thought-provoking but that would also reach a wide variety of readers. We would always have a stranger or two at each meeting and it was always interesting to hear such different perspectives.

Life of Pi sparked a wonderful decade of reading for me and I won’t ever get rid of my copy, even if I never read it again.

* * *

Since we have two books, I have two questions: Is there one particular book that changed the way you build your library? If you were to start a book club, which book would you pick for your inaugural read?

A (1)This post is Days 11 & 12 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. You can find the entire series over at my A Literary Life page. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

When You Outgrow Books You Loved

One year in high school, my best friend and I decided to take “Independent Reading Seminar.” I thought this would be a good way to catch up on reading outside of class. What we didn’t realize is that it was an English classed aimed at students who didn’t read. The goal of the class was to teach high schoolers that reading is fun! Essentially, we got credit to read Teen Vogue, comic books, newspapers, or anything with printed words.

510VwbbHZkL._SX303_BO1,204,203,200_I decided to use my time to tackle The Fountainhead for an essay contest I was entering. The 700-page novel was longer than anything any of the other students had read and it earned me the title of “smartest kid in the class.” Without that dedicated time, I’m not sure I would have finished that heavy tome.

I’m not sure if I was the target age for The Fountainhead or not. In many ways, reading it at seventeen made the book much more impactful than if I had read it at twenty-seven. The themes of individuality and idealism made my teenage heart sing. As a questioner and overthinker, I didn’t fit into many groups in high school. I certainly wasn’t an outlier, but I wasn’t popular or nerdy or athletic or any of the things that truly gave you a group. So, the idea of fighting the system, of living true to your values, no matter what, gave me hope for the future.

Since then, I’ve read several more of Ayn Rand’s work. The older I’ve gotten, the less I connect with her particular brand of individualism and ideals. I’d say my favorite of the books I’ve read by her is We the Livingwhich is an autobiographical novel. That one helped me understand more of Rand’s need to push violently against and hints at too much community or communist overtones. I get that she experienced the harshest and most distorted expression of communism.

So, even though the values expressed in novels like The Fountainhead aren’t the values I’m living out today, this novel will always hold a special place in my journey toward creating my own idealism and way of thinking.

What book impacted you at a young age that doesn’t necessarily reflect your values today?

A (1)This post is Day 10 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. You can find the entire series over at my A Literary Life page. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

The Beginning of Social Justice Awareness

Yesterday, I mentioned a librarian who made space for me to dig deeper into the books we were reading as a class. Another influential person was her assistant (whose name, twenty-some years later I can’t remember!) This paraprofessional was always recommending young adult books grounded in social justice.

0440407850I read about Kurdish sisters fleeing to safety; I read about Holocaust survivors; I read about migrant farm workers and people crossing the border from Mexico into the United States. Looking back, these books easily could have been written last year. In some ways, it’s sad to think that our world hasn’t changed all that much. In other ways, I’m so thankful for a teacher who would make me aware of these human rights crises from a young age.

Journey of the Sparrows is one of those books that comes to mind from that era of reading. It follows the journey of three young children who travel from El Salvador to the United States, crated in the back of a truck. They end up in Chicago, where their story continues as they try to find work and make a life as undocumented immigrants.

This book paved the way to books like Enrique’s Journey, a journalistic book about a young boy crossing the border to find his mother. It laid the groundwork for my reading of Tell Me How it Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions and is why I stand on the side of the refugee.

And, while Journey of the Sparrows was formative in itself, it will always represent that adult in my life who pushed my thinking and opened my eyes to a greater world. I hope that, as our girls grow older and their friends come to our home, I can be that adult for someone as well. I want our girls to be raised with a global awareness and a heart for the injustices both right here and around the world. Having these books in our home is helpful but having another trusted adult recommend them is incredibly powerful.

One of my greatest hopes is that they will have a librarian in their own school journey, just like I did, who sees that potential for justice and a heart for helping to push against systems of oppression.

Is there an adult who has influenced your reading journey? When did you start reading books that impacted your view of social justice?

A (1)This post is Day 9 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. You can find the entire series over at my A Literary Life page. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Stretching My Thinking

As an avid reader, I entered eighth grade with most of the language arts curriculum already read. Luckily for me, I had a teacher and a librarian who recognized the fact that I was a self-motivated learner. So, while the rest of the class read The Diary of a Young Girl, I went to the library and read The Giver.

51UsRhmuBkL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_What I loved about this exercise was reading these books in tandem. In order to skip class, I wrote a paper on totalitarianism in relation to both books. This was the first time I remember pairing books to create a deeper level of thinking. It changed the way I viewed reading and learning.

The Giver was also the book that helped me think critically about the government. It was one of the first dystopian novels I remember reading and I realized that, without political awareness, governments can become unsafe. I don’t remember thinking that this could actually happen in America but I do remember realizing that political involvement was nonnegotiable.

I know a lot of people compare our current political climate to dystopian novels and there are many days I completely understand. But I think the bigger reminder for me in this is to read books that stretch your thinking. Read stories with characters that make you uncomfortable. Read novels and memoirs and essays that help push back against your own status quo.

While The Giver is a fairly entry-level dystopian novel, I’m thankful for my teacher who put it in my hands and trusted me to make connections beyond the text. (Though, I’ve heard recently that it’s actually the first in a series. I may need to go back and read the others.) Now, I look at my reading habits and I’m often reading companion books that give me multifaceted views on a variety of topics. Because of that experience, I’ve learned to push my thinking and use books as a way to keep me on my toes and thinking critically.

What books helped you become more politically aware? Do you read to push your thinking?

A (1)This post is Day 8 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. You can find the entire series over at my A Literary Life page. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.