Books to read again, again, and again, ad infinitum.
by A Latter-day Bluestocking
It is raining, and not just raining but pouring! Bucket after bucket of water pouring off the rooftops so loudly it sounds like a gentle roar on my apartment’s ceiling. The spray as cars drive by, the individual drops off my fire escape sounds like a shower left to run. Most people see a day like today as dreary and depressing, there are times when I do too, but on a lazy Sunday I am looking forward to reading. I will roam from bedroom to living room and curl up on the bed or sofa and indulge myself in a good book.
Today I happen to be reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Wind’s Twelve Quartersa book of 17 short stories each introduced by the author. It is a great read for a day such as today because an intense commitment is not necessary as with a novel. A story can be finished, the book put down (albeit temporarily) after all one does have to eat. And for some reason, rainy days have always been good days to read stories of fantasy, magic, and science fiction. I don’t know exactly why that is but I like to imagine that as the rain cleanses the earth, stories that have a magical element cleanse the mind and open it up to possibilities beyond the mundane. Too romantic, I know.
It is days such as this when I reflect on all the books too good to just molder on shelves, or in my case piled on floors in front of over-filled bookshelves, books that should be read again and again. A few favorites come to mind, Jane Austen for example. All her books (Juvenilia and letters) can be read over and over and never become stale. There is not a year that passes that I do not reread one of her books (or more); one year focusing on plot, another on character, and yet another on the period in which the stories take place (things that Austen would have taken for granted that her reader’s would know). Others include, Tolkien, Bronte, Doyle, Hardy, Shelley, and Lewis. A rereading of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is essential if only for its lessons on the wrongs of racial inequality and the integrity of its hero, Atticus Finch. This is a book on how we should behave but seldom do.
My list has changed over the years, evolved. When I was 16 I reread A Room with a View so many times that the cover is in tatters and now I barely give it a second glance; not because it isn’t a wonderful book, it is, but now with more decades under my belt than I care to admit it doesn’t speak to me in the same way as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn does. That is the beauty of books, they evolve with the reader. For example, D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. First read when I was 12 or 13 1) because it was on a banned book list and 2) I was curious about sex. When I first read it I was titillated by the frank descriptions of copulation and didn’t remember much beyond that. I reread it again in my early 20s, now living with a boyfriend, and found myself bored by the book, my lack of innocence relegating the book to a place of stuffy indifference. I recently reread it yet again, a middle-aged woman separated from her husband in the midst of divorce, and finally “got it”; understood what Lawrence was trying to convey in this story: a wholeness of life is necessary in the pursuit of happiness. Well, at least, that’s what I “got” from it.
Here are ten books that I believe should be read again, again, and again, ad infinitum.
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. (because they are great stories)
- Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice. (probably one of the most perfect books in the English language)
- Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre. (its themes of atonement and forgiveness)
- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes stories and The White Company (great story-telling)
- Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa and Shadows on the Grass (brilliant memoirs)
- Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Witches (because they are so fun to read aloud and make your kid laugh, especially when done with voices)
- Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway (for its themes of feminism, mental illness, and existentialism)
- Ursula K. Le Guin, The Earthsea Cycle (because they are so wonderfully written and have a lot of themes to explore)
- Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (a moralistic story about the over-fulfillment of modern man: a good narrative and appropriate for our time)
- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (a vivid and unromantic view of the fragmentation of the American Dream)
Wow! That was harder than I thought it was going to be. I am happy to say that my list has 6 women authors; is somewhat well-rounded, consisting of classics, fantasy, and science-fiction (Frankenstein); and has American and English (and one Danish) authors. These are books I consider worth rereading and probably says more about me personally at this particular moment in time than anything else. Your list may be different. Reader, I would love to hear about the books you think are worth rereading and why. Leave a comment, I would really like to know.
Okay, now I have to get back to reading!