In the midst of the seasonal bout of decluttering, the question always arises: Why are we holding onto books we've already read?
The answer doesn't vary: Because we might want to reread them. Someday.
There could be other reasons: We might want to lend them to friends. Our kids may want to read them. Both likelihoods are unlikely.
My husband's go-to rationale? They provide insulation. This is possible, however nominal.
No, the truth is that I really do believe I might reread at least some of them. It's a realization that was a long time coming. Why reread a book when you know how it turns out?
The first time I put this sensibility to the test was rereading "Gone with the Wind," first read while in high school. Such a feisty heroine! Such a saga! Such a love story! Clearly worth picking up again.
Well, it's still a saga. But the love story between Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler seemed more forced than I'd remembered. And Scarlett, far from being a spunky foil taking on one and all, now struck me as an annoying little twerp.
Clearly, age and experience had changed my outlook on the world, and on women. Margaret Mitchell still wrote a great novel, but my attention now shifted to other characters and how they navigated such a world. And how they put up with Scarlett.
Intrigued by how time changed my view of a book, I picked up a middle school favorite, J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye," ready to again feel Holden Caulfield's righteous sense of frustration with all the phonies on the world.
But oh! I was no longer a teenager but a mother, and my heart almost broke to read of Holden's struggles. What I'd first read as belligerent and long-suffering sullenness now was revealed as quaking insecurity. His little sister, Phoebe, whom I'd considered as annoying as my own younger siblings, now took on a fascinating combination of naiveté and wisdom.
In short, it was as if my two books had become four. Reading at a different stage in life, my library had doubled.
The shift isn't always so dramatic. I reread "Advise and Consent" by Allen Drury in the period of turmoil surrounding the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and the Republicans' refusal to hold hearings on a nominee. The book proved a refresher course on process and politics — and being a closeted gay — and was relevant today as then.
So I'll continue to reread, in among new reading. A strategy of sorts emerged during my first return to Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series, comprised of 20 nautical historical novels.
I enjoyed them the first time around, yet I was caught off guard by how impatient I was to read them again. But the idea of rereading 20 once-read books in a stretch seemed weird, so I traded off: one O'Brian, one new, another O'Brian, another new. Each rereading revealed new motivations, a greater understanding of relationships on land and strategies at sea. Now I had 40 books!
Yet, again caught off guard, I wanted to read them again — and did so after a couple of years' distance. This time, the sense of revelation shifted more to one of appreciation for now-familiar scenes. The bookshelf morphed back to holding the original 20. But I loved them on an even deeper level.
It's been about five years since I reopened "Master and Commander."
Could be about time.
Kim Ode is a features writer for the Star Tribune. Books editor Laurie Hertzel will return next week.