Comfort Reading in Uncertain Times – Why We Reread Some Stories Again and Again

I finished listening to the seventh and final Harry Potter audiobook today, written by J.K. Rowling and narrated by Stephen Fry.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

I hadn’t planned to listen to all seven audiobooks over the past months. I have so many books on my to-read/ to-listen list, that revisiting a series that I’ve read before, more than once and in more than one language, feels like it should be a waste of my time. I very seldom reread books because I have a major fear of missing out on that next life-changing book. I find it almost unbearable knowing that I’ll never be able to read all the books on my list in my lifetime. And yet, when I listened to the final chapters of The Deathly Hallows, knowing that the hours and hours I’ve spent with these fictional characters were drawing to an end, I felt a little sad and that it was time well spent. I feel strangely at a loss now the audiobooks are finished and unwilling to jump into a new book straight away. I, like so many others, have found comfort in a familiar story during this time of uncertainty.

The classic good vs evil story is one we know intimately in all its different shapes and forms. Knowing that good triumphs, knowing that all the struggles are worth it in the end, knowing that the bad guy will meet his/her demise and the world will be a better place is just what we need when we’re not sure how our own story will end. Of course, we never really know how our stories will unfold, but with the few sure things in our lives uprooted at the moment, it’s nice to return to a fictional world, not so very different from our own, and to share in the victories and losses of characters that feel like friends.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

The only other books I’ve reread more than once, and that I plan to read again, is The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Like the Harry Potter series they share the good vs evil/ hero’s journey themes, and played a significant role in my childhood. I read The Hobbit when I was twelve and it changed my life and shaped my love of reading and writing. I can’t explain it, but I was completely engrossed in this magical world. I read The Lord of the Rings soon after, and when the films were released I watched them more times than I’m comfortable to admit. I suppose going into adolescence, with all the drama and confusion of this time, kind of feels like your own quest into Mordor. A fantastical world where you can journey with the hero is a comforting and safe space when your own life feels chaotic. The same goes for Harry Potter, which I also read as a teenager. Once again, I think any teenager will see parallels between their own life and that of unlikely teenage heroes, outcasts but with their own special ‘powers’ and attributes, who have to save the world from evil forces. Perhaps it’s these book that brought us so much comfort in the past, especially during childhood/ adolescents/ any other major life event, that we seek out again and again when life I’ll throws a curveball.

My experience of the books is much different now. I’m more critical, I don’t love everything about the story, and I relate differently to the characters and events. I have a lot more empathy for the adult characters, especially Molly Weasley, now! I might not relate to the main characters in the same way, but they remind me of a much younger me and a simpler time in my own life. I can’t help but smile at the irony.

It will probably be many years before I reread the Harry Potter series. When I pick up the books again, the details will have faded and I’ll be delighted when I rediscover scenes and minor characters I’d forgotten, but I’m sure I’ll enjoy them again, hopefully with some fresh insights and understanding.

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Thank you for visiting the Wild Library blog. Let me know in the comments below what books you keep coming back to. For more book reviews and recommendations, have a look at my Reading List or follow me on Instagram.

Happy reading,

Chantelle

2 thoughts on “Comfort Reading in Uncertain Times – Why We Reread Some Stories Again and Again

  1. Chantelle, thank you I enjoyed this article. Books are companions on our journeys, and remind us of where we were in time and place when we read them. I enjoy reading non-fiction books. I find that the wisdom, knowledge or lessons I take from them depend very much on where I am on my life journey. My personal favourites that I have read several times are Wisdom of the Ages by Wayne Dyer an the Prophet by The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran.

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    • Hi Emsia, thank you for your comment. I read fiction almos exclusively for many years and only discovered the joys of non-fiction in my late twenties. I agree that where we are influences our reading and that the books grow with us in this sense. Thank you for sharing your favourites, I’ll be adding these to my to-be-read list.

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