Jessica D’Agostino: The unique experience of re-reading and re-watching

Wednesday, March 25, 2020 - 11:23am

Due to a pandemic-that-must-not-be-named, many people have found themselves quarantined in their homes. This new window of free time can be looked at as a unique opportunity to try new things. Perhaps, you can finally read all of those untouched books on your shelf, start exercising, learn to bake, watch that show you’ve been meaning to get to on Netflix. While I am a big proponent of trying new things, I also strongly recommend revisiting things you’ve experienced in the past.

Re-reading, re-watching or even re-listening to something is often looked upon as a complete waste of time. Why give up time that could be spent discovering the millions of untouched materials the cybersphere or your dust-collecting bookshelf can doubtlessly provide? To me, however, there is something uniquely peculiar about revisiting old work; it’s because we never experience the same thing twice. When I reopen a book, which I regularly do, I am never reading it exactly the same way. I’m a new me with new experiences, new memories and quite possibly, a new perspective which will reshape my views of the work. This same idea applies to movies, television and music.

It goes without saying that our current predicament forces us to reconsider parts of life that we’d previously taken for granted. Many of us have been faced with new questions and begun to look at life differently. These lenses — quite possibly glazed with fear, apprehension and hope — can offer us the irrefutably magical opportunity of revisiting fictitious worlds with a new point of view.

Why, however, should you spend your time re-entering a world when you could instead be somewhere completely new? In times of stress, revisiting a work can be less overwhelming or daunting a task than tackling something completely different. The words seem familiar or comforting, like a weighted blanket, and the characters feel like old friends. With each piece of dialogue, description or downbeat, you may just feel a little more OK than you did before. I, of course, am not a doctor, psychologist or person qualified to assess anxiety or frustration. Instead, I speak from my own personal experience. However, there have been studies that support my claims about the benefit of repeat experiences. In his study, “Enjoy it again: Repeat experiences are less repetitive than people think,” psychologist Ed O’Brien discusses measured enjoyment levels of repeat experiencers. “Repetition,” he claims, “could add an unforeseen spice to life.”

Harry Potter and Hermione Granger were there to comfort me when the ACT seemed unconquerable. John, Paul, George and Ringo serenaded me through college acceptance and rejection letters. Now, through this uncertain and inexplicable time, Lorelai Gilmore has helped me keep calm and attack this new reality, clever quip by clever quip.

We revisit the same songs again and again — they become a huge part of our identity. The same should be said for the longer works in our lives; books, movies and television define our interests and can speak to our perspectives, ideologies or priorities in an even greater way. Through this process of rediscovery, we find new ways to connect with people.

Even in isolation, we can revisit, expand and reinforce old connections made the first time we experienced a certain book or movie. Who were you dating? Who were your friends? What were your priorities? How has that all changed? Maybe a connection you’ve made in this past year has forever altered the way you feel during “To Kill a Mockingbird” or how you pity “The Godfather.” There are so many new entrances and hallways and windows within the doors you have opened in the past. Find them, walk or climb through and open them. In addition to all of the new tasks and books and shows in your queue, try applying all of this newness to something your brain will remember. It may surprise you how new it may seem. 

Jess D’Agostino can be reached at jessdag@umich.edu.