Friday, March 28, 2008


Perhaps it's because I'm closing in on my mid-forties and feeling nostalgic for my lost youth, but lately I've been having the urge to start rereading favorite books from the first forty-three years of my life. Last year in England, I reread half of Jane Austen's novels (Mansfield Park, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey) before watching the disappointing new adaptations on ITV. For many years, the only novel I had read more than once was Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which I've read three times. Rereading Jane Austen was a marvelous experience: the novels, which I read for the first time in my late twenties or early thirties, were completely fresh and new a decade later. But rereading Tolkien, before the first film came out, was a disappointing experience. The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which was the greatest reading experience of my teen years, had lost much of its magic when I reread it in my late thirties.

Besides the remaining three Jane Austen novels, what books are on my rereading list? Here are a dozen that come to me as I swivel around and look at my bookcases:

1. Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre
2. George Eliot, Middlemarch
3. E.M. Forster, Howard's End
4. Andrey Biely, St. Petersburg
5. Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway
6. Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
7. Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence
8. Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire
9. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
10. Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
11. Flann O'Brien, At Swim Two Birds
12. Dorothy L. Sayers, The Nine Tailors

What novels are on your rereading list?


Bleeet said...

The only novel I've ever deliberately read twice was John Irving's, A Prayer For Owen Meany.

I read it, then read it out loud to my wife, back when my life seemed to have time for such things.

If I were to think of books I would gladly read again - and keep in mind, I'm not a re-reader - let's see...

Tim O'Brien, The Things They Carried
Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle
Tom Robbins, Even Cowgirls Get The Blues
Alice Walker, The Color Purple

That's all I could think of from the tippy-top of my head. Other titles are hiding in my memory, I'm sure.

Irving's book has such great character and characters; O'Brien's mesmerized me... it's the only book I've ever read in one sitting, and I am a very, very slow reader... like maybe twenty pages an hour if I'm cruising... ten per hour if I'm distracted or the material is obtuse or just plain dull.

Penelope said...

I reread at least as much as I read new things. There are books I've read three, four, five or more times. I see it as something of a moral failing, or least as if I ought to see it as a moral failing, that I slip so easily into the familiar and beloved, rather than expanding my horizons at every turn, but so it is. I think it has partly to do with the fragmented, interruptible nature of life since motherhood, which can make it hard to find the concentrated time to tackle a substantial new work -- but I happily reread as a child and young adult as well. Maybe it's related to the reason I've read so many mysteries -- there's a safeness in rereading, as there is in reading books that follow a certain formula. That's where I see the moral failure, I guess.

When I love a character, or an author's or narrator's voice, I come back to them again and again as old friends. I find it puzzling when people don't do this with books they've loved! Things that I am almost always ready to reread after a few years:

-Jane Austen (especially Persuasion)

-Barbara Pym (like Austen, always full of the delicious little turns of phrase that make me smile, if not skip with joy, and that never get old)

-Favorite mystery authors, including Sue Grafton, Marcia Muller, Dorothy Sayers (a good part of the inspiration for naming one of my daughters Harriet), Dick Francis

-The Tales of the City books by Armistead Maupin

-Georgette Heyer (delightful, witty froth)

-Childhood favorites: Anne of Green Gables, Little Women

-My most recent rereads: the books of Alexander McCall Smith, some of which are framed as mysteries but are really charming meditations on ethics and the nature of goodness and of the relationships between people.

Bleeet, I love the works of John Irving. But I don't think I've yet reread any of them. But I suspect I will.

Shan said...

Oh, I just have to comment after reading bleeet's comment above about Owen Meany. I haven't read it now in years (at least five), but it's one of the few books I've read multiple times, and definitely the one I've read the most. Also, I know many other people who feel the same about it and have likewise read their dog-eared copies over and over. Just thinking about it gives me an "awww..." warm and fuzzy feeling. After I recommended it to my mom and she loved it also, she kept saying it should really be made into a movie or play, but I always maintained that one could never give out-loud voice to Owen Meany: how would you ever do that voice? So naturally I am dying to know how bleeet managed reading it aloud.

Maybe I should re-read it this spring. Love, love, love.

Bybee said...

Most definitely Middlemarch!

Thomas said...

All of the books that I have read from your rereading list will be on mine at some point: Howard's End, Middlemarch, Age of Innocence, and A Tale of Two Cities.
For now though, I have plenty of things to read for the first time!

New Poem: "Phrasebook"

My poem " Phrasebook " has been published online in Ergon: Greek/American Arts and Letters .