Some things are so good that they must be experienced again — a meal, a vacation destination, a song. They are so good that upon first encounter, perhaps we are distracted with our own pleasure in the experience that we don’t notice the minutia, the tiny details that come together to form the entirety of the occurrence. Thus, they must be relived, re-experienced, revisited.
That is exactly how I felt the first time I read the wonder that is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah. Introduced to the Nigerian author while in a college communication class, watching her as she delivered her TED talk, “The Danger of a Single Story.” To say I was merely interested in her talk would be a lie — I was completely and utterly consumed by it. I was in awe of her intelligence, her deliberate words, her flowing speech, and the message they came together to craft. I recall having to write a handwritten response to the video following the in-class viewing, and my hand could not write fast enough just how much her words meant to me, how much sense they made to me not only as a journalism student, but also as a lover of good storytelling.
I re-encountered Adichie as all of pop culture did when Beyoncé featured a snippet of her defining ‘feminism’ in the song, “***Flawless,” and yet again when I read the work from which that definition is derived, We Should All Be Feminists. As I sought out more and more of her wisdom and workmanship, I turned next to her novels, first picking up Americanah to read on my train commute to my first job.
If I was in awe of her speeches and her nonfiction work, I was completely blown away by her fiction writing. Each word on the page felt meaningful, carefully considered and deliberately chosen to be the perfect word to convey exactly her intent. Each sentence of each paragraph built, as if brick by brick, the tortuous tale of Ifemelu and Obinze, as their lives came together and apart and back together again. Each page felt as personal as that of a diary entry and as easy as a conversation with a longtime friend.
It was the kind of book I at once did not want to put down and did not want to finish. And when I did finally finish it, I knew that I would read it again some day. The question, however, was always when. With a new job came a new commute and new demands on time. Life and family events kept rereading Americanah — or reading anything — off of my agenda.
But then Covid-19 happened. Regular life, the very life that so often keeps us busy from the hobbies we enjoy, was now paused. Suddenly, we all found ourselves with nothing but time on our hands.
I of course starting running more with my newfound time, but I also decided that I wanted to start reading again. I started plowing through titles both new and old, and months later, I suddenly found myself in need of more titles to read. And then I remembered Americanah.
I started rereading the book a week or so ago, and as I’ve continued reading throughout the long Labor Day Weekend, every single thing that I loved the first time my eyes landed on the first page came flooding back. What’s more, the story revealed to me different pieces of the human experience that I failed to see on the first go round: the fragility of relationships, both those right in front of us and those strained by distance; the Black experience in the United States and the role that race, class, and gender play; the societal norms we tend to accept sans question, yet on further inspection reveal gaping holes in real, sound logic.
The work I once appreciated I found myself appreciating anew, both for the things I fell in love with years ago and for the things I just now noticed. Funny how the familiar can be new again when given a second look.
So what matters today is revisiting a past favorite and letting it reveal new things to enjoy right alongside the familiar, the remembered, and the loved. What matters today is getting lost in a story and its characters, yet not so lost that the lessons presented go unnoticed. What matters today is beautiful, thoughtful writing that makes you think just as much as it makes you feel. What matters most today is a second look and with it, a second discovery of what you loved about something in the first place.