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Will The Book Be As Good As I Remember?

A photograph of a copy of Vanity Fair with a duster on it

There was a good piece posted on Book Riot last month in which the author said:

“I worry that the books aren’t as good as I remember, or that there’s something horrible and problematic that I missed when I was younger.”

I feel this and I reckon it’s part and parcel of the concept of re-reading when you’re considering books you read years ago. No matter if it’s something that occurs to you as an all-powerful may-make-or-break-your-decision-to-re-read or just on the periphery, it’s natural for it to be there.

And I think especially when those years in between have seen you grow up a lot, mature. Any age can see this but it’s especially apparent when you’re looking at a book you read at, say, ten years old, a decade later. If the book in question was one you read at the appropriate age or older, it’s likely you understood it correctly. Unless we’re talking adult books and possibly missed cultural references, it’s almost a forgone conclusion, I reckon, that you’ve not much to worry about.

But if you read a book that is or was considered a little too mature for you, having missed something becomes quite likely and this likelihood increases the larger the gap between you and the book’s recommended age. Sometimes you may have realised at the time of reading that you were missing parts and in those cases that awareness will have carried over into the times you considered talking about the book – you may not have recommended a book you loved, for example, because you knew you may have missed something significant. Other times you won’t have been aware of it.

And that can cause a problem – in re-reading this book, am I likely to notice something I didn’t before and thus feel stupid or embarrassed? I recommended this book, lauded it – am I going to find something in it that’s wretched? Am I going to make the discovery that I possibly looked very bad/ignorant when I recommended it to X friend X years ago, or discussed it with X who, older than me, knew it wasn’t as good as I was saying?

Most of the books I’ve re-read were YA and I’ve not had too many experiences of feeling embarrassed – Northern Lights will always be good, for example, and most of what I missed on other occasions turned out to be very minor points – it’s actually more the case that I recognise a few of the books I read just as I was starting to become an avid reader again, in adulthood after leaving school, were likely a lot better than I thought. Does literary fiction seem lifeless and plodding when you don’t ‘get it’? In my experience, yes, it does.

Those times you didn’t like the book but you find on a re-read that it’s good, you just weren’t mature or knowledgeable or in the zone – that’s better. I think in many ways it’s easier to go from ranting about a book to saying ‘okay, it’s not so bad, I messed up’ than ‘oh my goodness this book is amazing… okay, actually the characters are horrible and I feel ashamed’. I think I’d have hated Heathcliff at any age, but I am still glad I only read that book a few years ago.

Away from any embarrassment, does this ‘worry’ that a book will be different point to the importance of re-reading? If an important element of re-reading is to see how your opinions have changed, then worry is as good a reason as any. Re-reading means we learn more. It’s linked to the concept of a book still having something to say, just that it’s on a personal level rather than societal, and not limited to the classics.

But what does this difference in maturity and so forth have on our ability to form an opinion, in terms of reviews and recommendations? Can we trust our opinion? Does it resonant a little too uncomfortably with that idea that some opinions are worthless? (Or does it simply match the idea that all opinions are worthwhile and should be matched with people who will appreciate them?) I know many people delete old reviews – I can’t see myself doing that but I do wonder if an update is in order.

What are your thoughts when considering re-reading a book you read a while ago?


Lisbeth @ The Content Reader

January 18, 2017, 7:46 am

I read Vanity Fair two years ago and really lived it. It was the first time though. I seldom re-read books, only a few very precious ones. I have re-read Wuthering Heights several times in recent years. I notice new things all the time, and see it totally different from when I read it as young.
I don’t think we should be embarassed if we recommend one book and liked it when we read it. We all have different views and interpret books differently. I can be amazed at reading reviews from people who totally disliked a book I loved. But that is life and the beauty of exchaning views on books.


January 18, 2017, 2:31 pm

I reread a lot, and have all my life. It’s clear to me that I react differently to a book when I’ve lived through more, so occasionally a book I thought was brilliant when I was younger isn’t as good as I remembered. Jo Walton calls that “the suck fairy.” This is one of the many reasons I think it’s important to give personal context to reviews, to let readers see why you react as you do.


January 18, 2017, 4:44 pm

This isn’t a problem for me because, in general, I never read a book a second time. There are just too many I’ve not read at all. Plus… there’s that fear I’ll be disappointed. I know our external circumstances can play a part in how we feel while reading a book, so no doubt in my mind, it wouldn’t be the same experience if read again.

Mary Mayfield

January 19, 2017, 12:39 am

My worst re-read was Doctor Zhivago. I read it first as a teen, and was caught up in all the romance of it (borrowed a lot, I think, from the Omar Sharif/Julie Christie film. I started to re-read it about ten years later, and couldn’t finish it. Somehow in those years Zhivago had turned from a misunderstood poetic hero, to a guy who whined whenever life didn’t suit him!


January 19, 2017, 7:54 pm

I am personally all for rereading classics, and I have reread a number that I first read when a teen and I either still didn’t like them but cold at least appreciate them, or loved them even more than I did the first time. I don’t generally reread children’s or YA books from my past because I am afraid I will not love them as much as I did then and I don’t want to ruin my happy memories.


January 19, 2017, 8:28 pm

I’ve never really thought about re-reading a book I didn’t enjoy when younger, but you have a good point with experience it could change how you read it. I tend to just re-read old favourites.

Jenny @ Reading the End

January 20, 2017, 12:41 am

I always think it would be a neat experiment to go back to books I read when I first started the blog (and liked) and see how I feel about them now. Of all the total books I read, there’s a small percentage that I reread, and those ones I usually reread *often,* once a year if they’re short or once every few if they’re long. Most often if I wanted them enough to own them, they stay good; it’s rare for me to go back to a book that I’ve owned for years and decide I don’t want it anymore.

What’s super interesting to me is that a lot of people who don’t do a lot of rereading will say that the reason for it is they don’t want to go back and find the book isn’t all they remembered. To me, that’s why to reread — if it wasn’t all I remembered, then my love for it was never true love in the first place!

Laurie @ RelevantObscurity

January 20, 2017, 5:19 am

Oo Charlie, this is so interesting, because on a personal note, I have always wanted to reread Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year. I don’t know how, but I got a hold of it when I was 12 and I am certain I missed a lot. What I remember was being fascinated with boils and tumors and such oh and fevers! Just what a 12 year old would be interested in. But I am sure there is more to it than that. I may try to fit it in this year and if I do I will try and remember this post.

As far as deleting posts of reviews of books I think differently about, my blog is still pretty new and I haven’t thought about that. But I hope I don’t, because I have seen others do it and what I notice is all the comments people took the time to write are also deleted. Also, we change over time and that’s ok. Thirdly, it can be a hoot to go back and see HOW much we have changed and what we used to think about a book.

I am now rereading Jane Eyre for the 4th time. It is a new book each time I read it. I cannot believe what I see now that I didn’t see before.


January 22, 2017, 8:22 pm

I worry about this too, especially the more educated I become on feminism etc..

There is a book I have that I’ve reread about 3 times I think, at various ages up to about 20 and each time I realised something I hadn’t understood when I was younger (like sex). I think I might reread it now to see what else I notice.

There is one blog I have deleted, and it was a right wing book review and i didn’t really understand what I was reading. I didn’t agree with what was written, but I did give it a review that was more ‘fair’ than it should have been. Luckily, thank God, I realised after posting the review that it really wasn’t something I wanted to be associated with, it was definitely racists, and I removed it. It’s one of the things that pulled me away from netgally back at that time (2013 I think).



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