Like most other insane Hunger Games fans, I bought a copy of Mockingjay at midnight on August 24, and preceded to spend most of the night and the next day reading it. Okay--I wouldn't call it "reading." More like guzzling, perhaps. I guzzled Mockingjay, swallowed it so fast I practically choked a few times. My eyes devoured the words on the page at such a frantic page they blurred and I got a headache. I closed the book at around 9:30 the next night, feeling like I had run a marathon, and with a large dose of "what the heck just happened?".
I appreciated Mockingjay when I first read it, I guess. I wasn't as angry and disappointed as other readers were, but I had this feeling like I had missed something important in the book. I had, after all, just consumed the book the way a contestant might inhale food in an eating competition. Obviously I can't have remembered details or nuances, only the big, broad strokes--and those had been unexpected and unnerving.
I also noticed the larger themes of the lose-lose situation that is war; the fragility of relationships in the face of decisions that question one's definitions of humanity. There is no black-and-white in war. War twists people so that even those whom we'd consider "good" may do abhorrent acts in the name of their creed.
And the biggest revelation, of course, was that Mockingjay ended exactly the way that it had to. It was a conclusion that had the entire series had been building toward. I finished it for the second time, finally coming to terms with the course that Collins had set for all her characters. I don't think I like it as much as the first book (the pacing! the thrill! the anticipation!), but I like it more than Catching Fire now. It's also definitely a book that I will go back to, again and again.
The point of my Mockingjay anecdote? Rereading gives you the opportunity to notice things you might not have on your first read-through, especially if you were busy poring over the pages, flipping them at screamingly high speeds in anticipation of what's going to happen. Now that you know the big events that await you in the plot, you can focus instead on all the delightful things about the book that you missed: the wit, or the language. For English class, you will notice the symbolism or themes--yes, it took me a reread before I noticed even the painfully obvious symbolism in The Scarlet Letter (which, for the record, I actually like).
I wonder how often or how much my opinion of a YA book I read would change if I read it twice before reviewing. I can think of several books to which rereading was kind. I can also think of a few to which my rereading it would not be so kind. (And that's probably a reason I haven't reread them: I'm scared of how dramatically my opinion of the book might change.)
Some questions that I have, then, after all this thinking about rereading, are:
- Should a book review be based solely on one's first and/or only readthrough of the book? Can it capture the fullness of the book?
- What are the benefits to reading a book at least twice before reviewing it? What are the drawbacks?
- Should I really take the time to reread a book that I disliked, to see if I might like it more after a reread?
- When someone says that a certain book is their favorite, does that mean that it stands up to rereads, or that it impressed the hell out of the reader the first time through? If your opinion of a book changes with rereads, what then is the definition of a "favorite book"? (This is something I obsess about because, y'know, I like making and updating lists to keep track of the relatively inane things in my life, such as my all-time favorite books ever. This is also something that I've been thinking about recently because I'm in the middle of rereading some old favorites right now and they're just not doing it for me, which makes me sad and also makes me doubt my stability as a reader.)
- What are the complexities involved in recommending a book that you once loved, but, upon rereading, you no longer liked that much?
The one thing that I know for sure, though? We crazy book people will rarely, if ever, have the time to reread every single book we read. And that makes me a little sad. I have that in common with English teachers. :)