Open Thread: Re-reading This Year?
There’s Nothing Like Coming Back to a Personal Favorite
Last year I re-read several Charles Williams novels and a couple Charles Portis novels (how very different, by the way) and loved the experience. On the one hand, it felt like chatting with an old acquaintance; on the other, there was so much I’d forgotten: characters, details, subplots, and more. That got me thinking: What books should I re-read this year?
There’s something special about the books we come back to. “This, the story of a butler, is as close to perfect as a novel can get!” tweeted John “NR” Wayne about Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day. “My second time through it after 14 years, as I hoped, has only magnified my appreciation and fortified my resolve to revisit more favorite books.”
C.S. Lewis was a serious re-reader. “I can’t imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once,” he wrote his friend, Arthur Greeves. Greeves disliked the practice, but Lewis confessed it “is one of my greatest pleasures.” In the final weeks before his death, he re-read the Iliad, Odyssey, and many other favorites.regularly re-reads Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. “We all have books that accompany us over our lifespan,” she says; “this is one of those for me. I read it first when I was a teenager and have reread it every few years since. I always draw something new and different from it.”
While the books we love stay the same, we don’t; we grow and change. Booker-nominated novelist Karen Joy Fowler regularly revisits Jane Austen and is “always surprised by how often I see something new.”
Old words meet us in new places. “One of the pure joys of getting older is,” as Atlantic writer Derek Thompson says, “re-reading books you loved as a kid and realizing there’s a whole book living under the book you thought you read.” Or as Joseph Luzzi puts it, “The words in a book you love will not change from year to year, but your interpretations of them will. . . .”
With that in mind, I think it’s worth considering an exercise proposed by Rivka Krause:
I want you to think back to a book that you loved in high school. It can be any genre, but preferably fiction. If you can, take the copy that you have off of your bookshelf, ignore the cries of your to-read pile, and see what happens. You may be shocked by the familiar setting, and the way that the characters feel like old friends. Or you may find that whatever originally piqued your interest no longer does it for you, which is also fine.
Why should we bother? “I urge you to try,” says Krause,
because ultimately all art is a light stretching from the past in an attempt to illuminate our present. And sometimes returning to an old source of illumination can spark something in our souls.
We can modify the exercise a bit and allow books from any writer who, as Austin Kleon says, “unlocks something in you.” That could be from any point in your life. Who’s that for you? What books have shined a light in your life worth revisiting? I’m not committing to these as a goal, but I’m noodling on three: C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces, T.C. Boyle’s The Tortilla Curtain, and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. I’d love to re-read and review these in the coming year.
Now it’s your turn: Are you a re-reader? What books do you enjoy coming back to? What books are you considering re-reading this year? Tell us in the comments.
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