I’m Having an Existential Crisis About Numbers

How and When and Why We Determine What “Counts”

Let me be honest with you for a moment: I have never re-read a book before.

Shocking, I know, given the various amazing and fantastic books I’ve read that I’ve not once gone back to for seconds. Or thirds.

But it’s true! I don’t know why and I don’t know why not, all I can do is shrug my shoulders and gesture emphatically and make a few desperate noises of confusion.

It’s not an uncommon practice; some readers love going back for more, re-entering the worlds of fiction they adore so much and re-visiting characters like long-lost friends. There’s a certain magic in going back again, in reading what you’ve already read, and seeing it with a different eye. I just…haven’t had the desire to re-read anything.

Call it stubbornness, call it arrogance—you’re probably right. Chalk it up to the fact that I have a TBR pile that seems to grow day-by-day, or attribute it to my lack of time. Any way you slice it, it all comes down to a simple admission that I simply haven’t done it.

Or rather, haven’t done it before. Until now. Or something like that.

Because I want to re-read books. More specifically, I want to re-read Elisabeth Thomas’s Catherine House.

Why? Research purposes* (a vague, and likely unsatisfying answer). I’ve just finished reading Olivie Blake’s The Atlas Six, a similarly dark novel of tortured academics, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the genre. Dark academia has an unstoppable pull that I find absolutely delicious. From Donna Tartt’s The Secret History (my first brush with dark academia as a theme and genre) to The Atlas Six, dark academia is often a tantalising examination of knowledge, power, and the forbidden.

All of that being said, I am faced with a new question. As my finger hovers over the digital image of Thomas’s book cover, getting ready to make the (inevitable) dive back in, I am wondering to myself: will this count towards my yearly reading goal?

#readerproblems, am I right?

What “Counts” as Reading?

I’ve brought up the query of whether or not listening to an audiobook counts as reading, and frankly, this feels quite similar.

I’ve read Catherine House before; I finished it around mid-2020 and I loved it just as much then as I fondly remember it now. I didn’t meet my reading goal in 2020** but it ultimately did count towards the challenge. Of course it did, every piece comprises the whole.

So…what if I read it again? Who’s to say that doesn’t “count”?

Because in some way, my question is really about numbers; has the number of books I’ve read changed if I re-read one? No, it doesn’t. I won’t have read any new books, I’ll just have read this particular book more than once. Does that count?

I’m inclined to say that it does. (And not out of a selfish desire to hopefully, actually, meet my reading goal for this year.) But because every time we read a book, whether for the first time or the fourth, we read it differently.

We come back to that book a different person than we were the first time. There’s a familiarity that wasn’t there before, an understanding—and perhaps admiration—of the characters and the plot within the pages. We see things that weren’t there before, we remember scenes and phrases like we’d uttered them ourselves; re-reading a book brings it closer to us, becomes more a part of us than it was before.

I think that has to count for something.

The What’s and the Why’s

Having never re-read a book before, this is largely my own personal brand of speculation. But my desire to re-read Catherine House comes from an easily twinned pair of reasons.

First, it was a fantastic book. I read it in only two days (which is fast, for me) and couldn’t stop thinking about it whenever I put it down (in those brief, interim moments between start and finish.) I don’t think I understood it, despite my love of it, and that too makes me want to read it again. Layers of subtext were lost on me, I think, and it stands to reason I’ll see more than I did the second time than the first.

The other reason, as previously unsatisfyingly mentioned, is research. I want to write it. I want to type it into the very fibre of who I am as a writer and creative; I want to breathe it into existence in a way that only I know how. But that’s not to say there isn’t plenty to learn; hence research.

Likely, as well, we re-read good books. What’s the point in going back to a book you or I didn’t enjoy? (There is none, I’d say.) There may be a few readers that attempt to re-read books they’ve DNF’d; though I am not familiar with anyone doing this and I myself haven’t done it, nor plan to^.

And surely there are a faction of readers that re-read books for nostalgia. There are books that we love so much, that we carry with us everywhere we go—the ones we’re always recommending, the ones that we remember so vividly—that we just have to read them again, just to experience it another time.

Now planning to re-read Catherine House, I’m left wondering which other books I would want to read again. Some of the first ones I can think of are:

This, of course, does not include a handful of books I would re-read that I am nostalgic for. The ones above are listed because they were so incredibly good and I would happily eat again.

Which books have you re-read? Are there any books you want to re-read?

Stay safe, be kind, and happy re-reading!

*I’m hoping to write my own dark academia-esque book in the distant semi-probable future. Shh, it’s a secret.
**Achieving a close 12/15 books for the year.
^This is mainly because I have not yet DNF’d a book.