Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Re-Reading and Remembering

Re-reading is something I didn't do for a very long time. Occasionally I would grab a book for a re-read when I was in a slump, but I've also long wished to re-read more often, to enjoy books again, or to re-evaluate them with a little (or a lot) more age. I missed yesterday's "freebie" day for Top Ten Tuesday, so I thought I'd throw these out for today instead. These are the top ten (ok, eleven) books I would like to re-read including my impressions of them as I remember them and the time in my life they take me back to visit.

From my high school days: 

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway made me hate Hemingway! I read it as a 9th grader with no idea about anything in the world. The main character seemed antiquated and yucky and "why would he care so much about this fish?" I hated it. I'm curious what age and some additional literary expertise would do to my opinions of this slim novel.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens was my second or third Dickens novel. Great Expectations was the first. I read it as a 9th grader and later undertook A Tale of Two Cities as a senior taking concurrent high school/college English courses. While I didn't first love it as much as GE, it's really stuck with me in a similar way. I remember a lot of the characters, I remember specific scenes and impressions, but it's another novel I think worth revisiting. It's also the best opening paragraph in literature!

From my early 20s:

The Red Tent by Anita Diamont was one of the first novels I read at the recommendation of Yahoo! Groups book discussion groups. At 21, I had not been reading for several years, but I'd just started back. As a student at Baylor, I spent a good deal of time in the art section of the library and picked up a slim biography of Auguste Rodin, the sculptor. That was all I needed to get back into the groove of reading for pleasure. When I joined the book discussion groups, I met a lot of the bloggers I'm still friends with today and I began to read outside of anything I'd read before. At this particular point in my life, I could go into a bookstore and be completely overwhelmed because I had no idea what to read. This novel was beautiful and thoughtful and everything I knew I wanted to read more of.

Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross was another book I read at the recommendation of my book group buddies. It was a wooonderfully involving historical novel about a supposed female pope in the 9th century. My book group also had the opportunity to chat with the author, which is when I first realized how accessible many authors are to their readers. And what a delight that was to discover!

The Hours by Michael Cunningham made me think very seriously about womanhood and motherhood. At the time, at the age I was when I read it, I found it somewhat terrifying, but I could also relate to some of the feelings of isolation as I devoured it shortly after my grandmother passed away. It's one of the most oddly uplifting and hopeful books I've ever read, and the closing paragraphs remain my favorite conclusion of a novel.

From graduate school:

Call it Sleep by Henry Roth is one of those classics that not many people discuss anymore. It sort of got passed over in favor of other novels. An American Modernism professor introduced this book, and I remember camping out under the breakroom table in the university writing center inhaling this one before class time. It's a stunning novel of the immigrant experience that incorporates some of the bravery and experimental elements of the Modernist period.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak was a cryfest! It was also one of the best discussions we had in my Adolescent Lit class. I found an affinity for Holocaust novels in graduate school in all their incarnations. This was just a great book, and I'm still fond of the narrator, Death.

The Golems of Gotham by Thane Rosenbaum is sadly underread. It came to me by way of the same professor who introduced Call it Sleep. It's a wonderful mishmash of magical elements, history, and Holocaust. Specifically, it deals with the ways in which Holocaust families inherit the Holocaust trauma. It contains some of the most wonderful passages...
Despair, if nothing else, is a private matter. The mind isn't required to share such information. That's because the soul is the master of its own short-circuitry, the system shutdown, the fading pulse that monitors the brokenness of both spirit and heart. When a state of mind sinks to a point where the life itself--the day-to-day engagements, the nightly slumber and silences--becomes unbearable, who are we to second-guess or armchair analyze? There was no way to properly insert oneself inside the minds of the Levins and follow the logic of [Holocaust]survivors who would one day choose a synagogue as the setting to turn off their own life-support systems.

Mail Order Bride by Mark Kalesniko is a graphic novel I don't hear too much about. I read it right after grad school and found the characters to be a lot of fun: a nerdy, virginal husband and a waify, aloof mail order bride. This one was full of multi-ethnic issues that I felt compelled by and it was a lot of fun to discuss the book via conference call with the author.

From then on...

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger was just fabulous. I loved the premise, the execution, and it made me bawl like a baby. I'm kind of a sucker for books that grab me by the heartstrings.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is the most recent book on my list, so I won't gush any more than I already have. This is one of those books that was atmospheric enough and twisty enough and quirky enough that I want to feel the same sense of wonder again. I'll wait for the memory to fade a bit and pull the book out when I need to revisit that sense of fantasy.


  1. I hope you find or make the time to re-read some of them!

  2. Thanks, Kathy! Digging them out of their storage bins may be the biggest hurdle. lol

  3. It's strange, I can never quite decide where I stand on rereads. There are books on my shelves that I've only read once YEARS ago and I'm never likely to do so again but then there are other books I reread every year.

    Plus it feels like a tiny bit of a waste every time I reread something, although I know it's a horrible thing to say. It's just that that 'slot' could have been filled up with a shiny new book instead!

    That said (and I'll shut up soon, I know I'm babbling), I do like rereading certain books. The classics, Harry Potter, some fantasy ones by Mercedes Lackey and sometimes I find myself wishing I'd held on to a book I didn't think I'd bother with again.

    Because, you know, you so obviously wanted that much of my opinion :p

    I've always wanted to read The Old Man and the Sea, but then I've never read Hemingway and it seemed like a good place to start.

    I have read (and reread!) The Book Thief though. I really enjoyed it, although perhaps not as much as a lot of people did. I think it's just because I'd read a lot of WWII fiction around that time and I was a bit burned out.

    I read The Night Circus right after Christmas and I already can't wait to reread it :)

  4. I really want to read the Night Circus and Pope Joan! I have seen the movie Pope Joan & documentary about her. I really want to read the book too. So interesting!

  5. The Red Tent is on my must-read list for 2012, I just know I am going to love it!

    Rereading is something I would like to do more of too...but then there are so many books and such little time...

  6. I have read The Red Tent three times, and still want to reread it again. I also started A Tale of Two Cities last year, but didn't finish it because of time issues :( I do so hope that you get the chance to reread some of these!

  7. Great idea for a post! I've reread The Time Traveler's Wife twice since I first read it in college and with each read I pick up on new things. (I also cry harder at the end with each read.)

  8. I really wish I could say I loved The Hours. It's my favorite movie ever, but I was so disappointed in the book. I've even tried to reread it, thinking maybe I'd like it better now, but I just can't do it. Something about the writing grates on me. I know it's not the story, because like I said, favorite movie ever, the sort of movie I've literally watched over 100 times. I used to watch it twice a day in my last trimester of my third pregnancy...never fails to make me cry. Yeah...

  9. Excellent list! I'm with you on Hemingway -- I started him WAY. TOO. EARLY. But have recently started working my way back through his works (as in, I've read one) and like him a lot more now that I am not 13 and all "ick this book is stupid and boring and what's with the fish!?"

    And also 100% with you on the Time Traveller's Wife. I loved that book, and still do, and really, it warrants a re-read.

    Other re-reads for me would include Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and most, if not all, of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's works. Oh, and Winter's Tale, too. Mostly magic/magical realism books... what does that say about me?

  10. I doubt age and maturity would make Hemingway any more palatable for me ... but I think you're very nice to want to give him a second chance. ;) I am so eager to read Night Circus - I'm still in queue at the library for it. Mail Order Bride looks so interesting!

  11. I love rereading. I do it constantly. I don't ever feel like I love a book unless I want to read it again. I really enjoyed The Red Tent when I read it, but now all I can remember about it is how the narrator always said "her sex" and "his sex" as a euphemism and it was nauseating.

  12. I rarely, if ever reread books, though I wish I had more time to do so! It's been waaay too long since I last read The Old Man and the Sea. I first read it in middle school and fell in love with it.

  13. What a fabulous idea for a post. I might have to come up with my own "to-re-read" list. I have one floating in my head. I had forgotten about Pope Joan. I loved that book.... must re-read it!

  14. I don't reread as much as I used to, but occasionally I dip into old books I loved and sometimes I'm surprised that the thrill is gone. You just never know which way you'll go on a second reading.

    Also, I've been craving Hemingway, lately. Does that make me weird?

  15. I've long intended to re-read Call It Sleep myself. I loved it. I don't understand why it's not a household word.

    I found a small stack of Old Man and the Sea in a closet at school and I'm considering it for my class. I'll re-read it first.

  16. I've been meaning to read Call It Sleep for a while now. Hopefully I'll get to it this year! Mail Order Bride sounds really interesting to me too.

  17. I was a huge mess after The Book Thief and The Time Traveler's Wife. Just, tears, everywhere. But I LOVED those books, they're on my re-read list too.

  18. I would love to read your thoughts on these re-reads. It is always so fascinating to see how people react to books that were beloved when younger. I hope you get to them soon!

  19. Oh good. I bawled like a baby during TTTW, too. The ending just about did me in. It's nice to know I'm not the only one who was emotionally distraught over that book. (I think that's why her next book fell flat for tears.)

    With the exception of a few classics that I've forgotten, I never want to re-read anything. Still, I'm fascinated by those people who say they read a certain book EVERY YEAR. It scares me to commit that deeply to a book!

  20. I very rarely ever reread anything. I guess I have always been of the mind that there are too many new books out there for me to waste time with something I've always read.

    That being said, I have reread To Kill a Mockingbird about 4 times. It is my favorite book, and it's like an old friend visiting every time I pick it up. I've also re-read The Stand...again, one of my favorites. Not sure why, but I just love it.

    But with going to school and studying LIt, I'm finding myself rereading a few things. Last semester I -re-read Gatsby and I can see why rereads can be a good thing. I have a totally different perspective on things now, 20 years later. I don't see Gatsby so much of an enigma or a great person, but more of a really sad, pathetic person. And re-reading Madame Bovery this semester makes me hope I like it better then 2nd time around.

    (I just bought Night Circus for my Nook! Makes me feel good knowing it's already on your list of books ot reread!)

  21. Hannah, I love long comments!! I don't have any books I re-read every year, but I do have a stash of "keepers" I intend to re-read. Although for the most part that doesn't happen. But I'd really like for it to!

    I have re-read almost all of the Potter books and even the Twilight series (sadly).

    I actually put a Mercedes Lackey book on my library wishlist yesterday since you mentioned it! It's a retelling of a fairy tale -- Snow White maybe? Can't remember.

    You should definitely try The Old Man and the Sea. It seems to be a love or hate book.

  22. And I typed too fast and spelled your name wrong, HANNA!!! I'm so sorry!

  23. Nina, it is a very interesting book, though I remember the ending being a little melodramatic for my taste. The rest was GREAT! I recorded the movie a few weekends ago and need to watch it. I was SO BUMMED it didn't make a bigger splash in the US. No surprise, but still bummed.

  24. Sam, there is pressure with so many books waiting in the wings. I think that's been another up side of my only having a small selection of books in my house at my fingertips -- less pressure! Yay! Now I do feel a little more liberated to read whatever I want.

    Heather, The Red Tent is one of the books I'm looking most forward to re-reading. It really grabbed me in a big way when I read it the first time, and I hope I still feel the same magic. Try to get back to A Tale of Two Cities if you have an opportunity! It has one of the BEST endings ever, ever, ever. :)

  25. The fairytale retelling ones are the best Mercedes Lackey books! Is it called the Gates of Sleep?

    My favourite is the Fire Rose, it's the Geauty and the Beast one :)

  26. I had the exact same Old Man experience! Scared me off Hemmingway...I half-read another of his (can't even remember which!) for book club years ago. I keep waiting to get old enough to appreciate him (it's gotta happen at some point, right?)

    I don't re-read very often, but around the beginning of each year I get a huge craving for a comfort read--an old favorite. Usually ends up being Willa Cather or Jane Austen. There are a couple I read last year that I'd really like to re-read though...

  27. Lately I've been using listening as a means of re-reading books. I have a terrible memory so this actually works well for me (listening to Weed the Strings the Hangman's Bag even though I read it a few months ago--can't remember the ending!).

    I've been hanging onto The Red Tent as I loved it the first time. And Old Man and the Sea as I hated it (keep books thinking that I'll like them the second time). Like I have time for a second time. ;)

  28. What a great post.
    Last December,I reread my old favorites and really enjoyed it.

  29. I love rereading and if enough time has passed I am amazed at how I might react differently to a book.

  30. I LOVE rereading! Love love love it! It's like visiting with old friends, catching up on old stories, learning new things (because I always notice something I missed the first time). It's a comfort thing too. I have so many books I want to reread; it's not even funny.

  31. I should make a list of the books I'd like to reread and then just do it! You've noted several that I would add to my list.

    Tale of Two Cities - Read it in 9th grade and loved it.

    Pope Joan - I remember reading this for the group. I've gone on to read it a second time and it was just as good!

    I read The Hours after struggling through Mrs. Dalloway. Then I watched the movie. I would love to experience all three all over again.

    Sigh. The Book Thief. Definitely a cryfest. And THE BEST BOOK ever, imho. I tried to listen to the audio, but stopped. It wasn't grabbing me and I didn't want to ruin my original reaction to the book. I will read it again, though. Just waiting for the right time.

    The Night Circus - LOVED the audio and I'll read the printed version some time in the future. Excellent book!

    Now to peruse my shelves and make a list. :)

  32. That is so funny you said that about The Old Man in the Sea. I had to read it for an Honors English Class that I had my junior year in high school, which meant I had to read it the summer before. I hated that book. I couldn't figure out for the life of me why anyone would write a book about something so stupid. But when we got into the classroom that year, I had the most fun when the teacher began to dissect it and show us the symbolism and all that went into it. Even though I liked that part, I will NEVER re-read it =)

  33. I am a big fan of re-reading, so I say go for it as soon as possible! Start with The Old Man and the Sea. Two reasons this is a good one to start with: it's super short, and it's one I re-read and felt completely different about the second time around.


Thanks for taking the time to comment! Blogger has been a beast lately, so I hope you do not have any troubles leaving your thoughts.

Images by Freepik