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The Deeper Meaning of Planets Around the Sun

These days, when I roll over onto one side in my bed, I end up staring straight at a bookcase filled with an array of favorite books from my childhood and well-loved modern young adult novels.

This is a new view for me, as I only installed my bookshelves in August and moved them to their current location some time since then, but this view has been the catalyst for an interesting phenomenon:

I am suddenly gripped with the urge to reread everything on those shelves.

I think it must be half subliminal, as I find myself staring unknowing at my favorite books mostly during the hazy early-morning waking period. Then suddenly throughout my days, I feel like I should really reread Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli or reread Harry Potters 1-7 (which I just did not three months ago) or reread any number of novels that I have read any number of times.

This is (at least partly) how I found myself rereading Judy Blume’s Just As Long As We’re Together over an apple bran muffin and coffee on the morning of my last day off.

Judy Blume, in case you are unaware, is pretty much the coolest human being alive and rereading her books is never exactly a bad idea.

Still, I find myself nonetheless questioning why exactly I felt like I simply had to read (for the millionth time) the story of yet another menstruation-obsessed thirteen year old Connecticut girl (see: Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret.), this one suffering angst caused by sudden weight gain, her parents’ impending divorce and a huge rift between herself and her neurotic best friend from childhood.

I have read this book maybe a few more times than is strictly normal, because well, I have always been a chronic rereader of books and as a once-chubby preteen, this book particularly resonated with me.

(sidenote: How have I never written in this column about Judy Blume?! Get ready for it in the coming weeks…)

Since the day I devoured that classic Judy Blume along with my breakfast, I have been thinking about why I might be such a chronic rereader of books, because it turns out that plenty of people do not regularly practice recreational reading of books they have read before.

The subliminal early morning of my bookshelves is clearly responsible for the recent spike in reread desires, but it is not like this is not a long-standing hobby of mine. Indeed, part of the reason why my shelves can exert this rereading hold over me is that all the books on there are books I have read before at least once (but usually more than that). The notable exception to this is the one shelf I have devoted to literary classics and critically acclaimed modern novels – most of those I have read only once (but usually less than that).

Considering this leads to an interesting insight – why I reread books must surely be connected to what books I reread. You’ll never find me sitting down with The Fountainhead because I want a dose of Howard Roarke (who I love, but still…the effort!). But boy, oh, boy do I crave me some repeated page time with those long-haired Irish (or Irish descended) Nora Roberts’ heroes.

I am currently at the start of a project with my sister in which we plan to read a bunch of classic literature that we somehow have never read before. We’ve created a pretty tight schedule that I had every intention of sticking to. Right now, I am about half-way through Catch-22 by Joseph Heller and of course, it’s phenomenal. Well-written and though-provoking, but still completely entertaining (which, let’s face it, Serious Literature is not always).

Despite my enjoyment of Catch-22, man, it is long! I only have so much time during these early months of my school year (elementary school librarian is what I do) so it is hard to sit down with a real book and read it.

Much better to sit down with a young adult book or romance novel that I can enjoy easily in a few short sittings (or one long one). Even better to enjoy one that I have read before, because then I can skip the boring parts!

Just like some movies may not be the best films but lend themselves to repeat viewing, some books are just fun to revisit time and time again. Rereading certain romantic young adult fantasies is roughly akin to rewatching The Princess Bride for me.

Then yesterday at work, I had further insight about why I reread books and why lately especially (apart from Catch-22 avoidance and the subliminal pull of my bookcase) I have been drawn to reread.

See, I have this returning student in first grade who as a kindergartner suffered from pretty severe anxiety – he could get riled up from the simplest thing because every new bit of information or instruction felt like a personal attack upon his sense of peace (and kindergarten is nothing but a long series of brand new information and instruction and experience).

Every week when he would come to library last year, he would want to take out the book Planets Around the Sun (a non-fiction book about, well… you can guess). Sometimes he would feel brave enough to branch out and take a different book, but inevitably the next week he would return his new book and come looking for Planets Around the Sun.

I saw him this Monday and he is still riddled with anxiety as a first grader; he clearly was having a tough time in the library while his class was there. But then on his way out the door at the end of class, he saw Planets Around the Sun on the shelf. His relief and excitement were plainly visible on his face.

Here was familiarity. Here was a guarantee of a certain base-level of entertainment without any of the risks of boredom or unhappiness or anxiety of an unread book. Here was the alleviation of the pressure to choose something new and unknown, and choose it wisely.

Ohhhh….the insights you can get from watching the simple behaviors of small children…

This is exactly my problem! Why risk spending my time on possibly unfulfilling pursuits when I can guarantee myself at least a mild enjoyment with something I know will deliver? Never mind that I can never hope to achieve any new levels of excitement or interest – at least I will be safe. I am spared the energy of choosing and I am spared the stress of the unknown.

This sounds all a little melodramatic when one considers that I do actually spend a great deal of my time reading brand new books.

But in times of stress or anxiety in my professional or private life, I always choose those books I have read before. When I am sick or cranky or overstimulated or sad or lonely or anxious, I inevitably turn to the comfort of a young adult novel or a childhood favorite or a romance novel by Nora Roberts because like my little first grader, I’d rather trust in the comfortable.

And of course, this is all a huge metaphor for the way I live my entire life.

Anyone who knows me at all knows I am not a risk-taker or a thrill-seeker. I like the familiar and I like the predictable and too much exposure to overstimulating events (like those containing large crowds of people…or even small crowds of people) necessitates my retreat from society for some time afterward. I am rarely open to new experiences and new relationships tend to cause me more stress than I care to expose myself to.

All this is totally manifest in my choices of literature.

Psychoanalysis, what?!

So yeah, tonight I will probably go home from the coffee shop where I am writing this and reread something off of my bookcase. Screw the fact that I am two days past my self-imposed deadline for finishing Catch-22, or the fact that I have a couple of supposedly delightful new works of literature from the library waiting to be read.

I had a cranky day at work and I am craving the mild enjoyment of something I know will deliver.

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