The Art of “Getting Through” by Lauren Wolk
Nobody thinks it odd to listen to a song more than once. To revisit a movie or watch reruns on TV. To read a poem again and again over time. To look often at a painting, or a photograph, or a sculpture. Quite the contrary.
Part of the pleasure is knowing what’s to come – looking forward to a favorite line or scene – but also the surprise of something overlooked. Standing before a familiar painting and seeing or feeling or understanding something new.
Why, then, would it be odd to reread a book? Because it takes longer than listening to a song or watching a movie? So what? Why not stretch out a rewarding experience for as long as possible?
I return to favorite novels frequently. Yes, I do sometimes admonish myself for rereading when there are so many books out there, waiting to be read for the first time. But experiencinga novel for a second or third time can be revelatory. It’s a chance to take a closer look, to experience the language more thoroughly, to slow down and savor the nuances.
Even a book I know by heart can seem fresh not because it has changed over time but because my heart has. Like any friendship, a relationship with a book grows and changes over time, little by little, revealing old secrets and telling new ones.
I am in love with secrets. With layers. Complexity. Subtlety. I look for these elements when I read, and I try my best to honor them when I write.
I suppose my decision to write a sequel to Wolf Hollow was tied to my habit of rereading books I love. Why not spend more time in an evocative setting with characters I’ve come to know well, plumbing their depths with fresh insight, learning about myself as I discover more about them and their lives?
Writing My Own Lightning let me return to the farm I created to honor the land where my family has lived for generations. It also allowed me to spend more time with my protagonist, Annabelle, both of us a little older, a little wiser, and newly aware that the more we know, the more we have to learn. Especially about people like Andy, a boy we always considered a bully. As it turned out, he, too, had layers. Just like Annabelle does. Just like we all do.
That’s what I love so much about writing and reading books. The discoveries! Building one layer on top of another to create an interesting topography, a path worth following. Peeling back one layer after another to find what’s waiting beneath.
As the American philosopher Mortimer Adler said, “In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.”
That’s true whether it’s a book I’m reading or writing.
I had a hard time “getting through” My Own Lightning because it had a hard time getting through to me. I worked on it in 2020, a challenging time by any definition. And I struggled to hear its secrets through all the chaos and grief of that year. But Annabelle persisted, and she eventually got through to me.
One of the lessons I learned in the process was to slow down. To spend my precious time more wisely. On books, of course, but also on people. To work harder to see past the top-most layer. To be more patient. More forgiving. And always to take a second look. To reread people before deciding that I know their stories well enough.
I was never a girl scout, but I know the song they like to sing. The one that says, “Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver, the other gold.” I feel the same way about books. The old and the new. They are both riches. And they are both a currency that grows greater the more it’s spent.
Reading enriches. So does rereading. It’s simply not an “either-ore” situation.
To celebrate the sequel MY OWN LIGHTNING, Penguin Kids and Penguin Classroom have launched the WOLF HOLLOW READ ALONG. The on demand read along includes five weeks of activities, read alouds, discussion questions, and more as classrooms, libraries, and families revisit the modern classic.
Get FREE author read aloud videos, activities, a free & shareable digital sampler, and more.