I spent some time recently scrolling through Amazon’s list of 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime. I love book bucket lists, even if I don’t necessarily agree with the picks. The point of such lists is to argue over what should be on there that isn’t, or is on there and shouldn’t be. I always come away with a reminder to read something I haven’t yet (in this case, Team of Rivals, which I never got around to reading, but want to).
Anyway, the Amazon list prompted me to come up with an (incomplete) list of Books I’ve Actually Re-Read. There are plenty of books that I’ve enjoyed but don’t feel the need to read again. I enjoyed reading The Brothers Karamazov in college, for instance, but I don’t feel like I’d reread it for pleasure with all the other choices out there. On the other hand, these books are ones that I found entertaining enough that I decided to page through them more than once.
To the Lighthouse. I’ve been on a Virginia Woolf kick lately (maybe it’s been the Indigo Girls CDs?) No one ever made me read her books in school, but I’ve quite enjoyed the lyrical prose and the expansive character development. To be sure, not much actually happens. And yet you kind of get the universe in a grain of sand, or at least in the description of a single day (or two). I realize that my novel structure — one period of time, then an interlude, then the same characters 10 years later — borrows a lot from this book. Subconsciously, I suppose, but I like the format. I’m tearing through Mrs. Dalloway right now, and will probably reread Orlando next.
Cannery Row. Yes, it was assigned in school, but Steinbeck’s novella is a great read, especially if you get a chance to read it while you’re in Monterey, California. I’ll go ahead and list some other high school English class rereads: The Great Gatsby — I’d kind of like a voice that’s full of money — and The Old Man and the Sea. Of Shakespeare’s plays, I’ve most enjoyed seeing A Midsummer Night’s Dream multiple times.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Douglas Adams skewers many things while being funny. There’s nothing wrong with writing a funny book! Indeed, there’s much right with it.
White Noise. Don DeLillo has written longer and deeper books, but this one is accessible and entertaining in its discussion of a family in a university town, and their (universal, really, but peculiarly offbeat at the same time) fear of death.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I got into Barbara Kingsolver’s novels when I was in high school. Then I liked them less, and didn’t make it through much after Animal Dreams. But for some reason I have read this non-fiction book of hers multiple times, on how she lived for a year eating stuff made less than 100 miles from home. I guess I just like food writing. I re-read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, too. I don’t think I’ll re-read Michael Pollan’s other books, but The Omnivore’s Dilemma is interesting and readable even if you don’t enjoy being preached at about the color cereal turns your milk. Perhaps this interest in food and nature is why I’ve re-read John McPhee’s The Forager multiple times. It’s a profile of Euell Gibbons, author of Stalking the Wild Asparagus (you can find it in McPhee’s book of profiles, A Roomful of Hovings).
Born to Run. I love to run, and Christopher McDougall’s account of ultra-runners, and a tribe in Mexico that runs the old-fashioned way, just makes me want to lace up my shoes and go. That’s ironic, I suppose, since the book kind of celebrates barefoot running. I think he bent the conventions of narrative non-fiction too much. But if you suspend some disbelief on that, it’s a page turner that’s a great example of why it helps to have really good raw material to write about.
A Sense of Where You Are. John McPhee did not bend any conventions of narrative non-fiction in writing this profile of Bill Bradley, depicted during his time at Princeton. It’s good basketball, and it’s good prose, and it’s a good meeting of two men who were very influential in their lines of work, both at early stages of their careers.
The Happiness Project. Gretchen Rubin took the self-help/memoir genre to new places and has inspired a lot of people to take happiness into their own hands.
The World According to Garp. I haven’t re-read John Irving’s classic in a while. But I read it 3 or 4 times in high school and became someone obsessed with it. I first read A Prayer for Owen Meany, and was a bit puzzled that all the reviews said “this is the novel that can stand next to Garp.” What is this Garp? I wondered. Having read Garp now, I’m not sure Owen Meany can stand next to it, or any of the other books, in fact, because Garp is just so gloriously original. That’s a funny thing to ponder — an almost literary idea — that someone would write a book early in his career and then have absolutely everything he writes after that be compared to that and found wanting. I think Irving may have created a few characters like that. I should re-read this one again soon.
The Elements of Style. Self-explanatory, really. I need to be reminded (often) to omit needless words.
Those are the ones I can recall just sitting here in my office. There are others, but this blog post is long enough. What books have you read multiple times?
21 thoughts on “Books I have actually reread”
Here’s our favorite authors to reread: http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2012/07/17/favorite-authors-to-read-and-reread/
Have you read “Once a Runner” by Parker? I found a copy when we were on vacation in Montana years ago, and it is my favorite running book.
@Katherine – I have not! I should give it a read. I thought I would like George Sheehan’s book because Runner’s World was touting it so highly. Then I picked it up and ugh. Not only would I not reread it, I could barely make it through 20 pages.
i also loved once a runner. i don’t think it’s a great work of literature but it’s interesting and i think all runners should read it at least once 🙂
I love non-fiction (including your book(s)!) and I do find myself rereading to really absorb ideas into my brain. Sometimes I will read the book, and then listen to the audiobook while doing excel or some other low level task.
The Power of Habit
168 Hours 🙂
The Happiness Project
How to Win Friends and Influence People
Favorite fiction that I read over and over again as a kid, and sometimes revisit as “comfort reading”:
The Blue Sword & The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
Tamora Pierce, especially the ones with Alanna and Daine
@Jenna- thanks! I’m honored to be on that list of self-help books. I love the image of “comfort reading” — that’s really what some of these books are to me. I want to read, and I know I’ll like the book. I know I should be more experimental but…eh.
The Happiness Project is certainly on my list! 168 hours is too – I recently read it for the fourth time, thanks for such a great book. Frighteningly, I’ve read most of the Harry Potter books over 30 times…
@Bethany – wow, thank you! I’ll take being read only 26 fewer times than Harry Potter 🙂
Getting Things Done by David Allen
I’ve reread books from my childhood with my kids. Some were just as good (or better) when I read them the first time (To Kill A Mockingbird). Others (Wrinkle in Time) have not.
Reading those books feels like time travel. I’m once again a 10-year-old reading for hours in my backyard on endless summer days. Books also give me another “language” to speak with my kids.
I reread To Kill A Mockingbird every year, usually around October. Many have asked why Harper Lee never published another novel. Perhaps, it was that everything else might “be compared to that and found wanting.”
I reread anything by Malcolm Gladwell. I can’t read any fiction repeatedly except Jane Austen. I’m getting some good ideas on new things to read after seeing what everyone else rereads. I’m definitely going to pick up the “Once a Runner ” book. You realize you are just feeding my addiction, right?
I’m reading Virginia Woolf for the first time. Why did it take this long? I liked the first chapter of A Room of Her Own so much that I bought the book.
I’ve reread the earlier mysteries set in LA by Walter Mosley because I can never remember the plots and I enjoy the characters and settings so much.
The Genesee Diary (Noouwen) and The Cloister Walk (Norris) are both accounts of monastery life that I have read and re-read.
Ellen Foster ( Gibbons), Blood of the Lamb (DeVries), Death Comes for the Archbishop, and The Great Gatsby–novels I have re-read and come to mind right now.
On my table to re-read–both spiritual memoirs by Lauren Winner–Girl Meets God and Still.
It’s fun to think about this on yet another snow-bound day in northern Indiana! Looking over our bookshelves makes me think of many others to read again.
Lord Of The Rings, not read, but listened to the recording, the one read by Rob Inglis. I have pulled many weeds in the garden while being transported to Middle earth.
But have you actually read Hotel New Hampshire? The entire book is based on the short story that is embedded within Garp (The Pension Grillparzer — or whatever it was called). I actually liked Owen Meany and Cider House Rules and A Widow for a Year almost as much (Owen Meany more I think).
Have you read anything by Richard Russo? I love Straight Man, and Empire Falls is also good, though I will admit he also has the same curse as John Irving.
Which is to say that the reason people compare subsequent Irving work to Garp is that a lot of it is very derivative. Sorry. My brain has turned off for the day.
@oldmdgirl – I did read all of the Irving novels (up to the more recent ones) but maybe I’d have a different impression reading them now. I remember them all as decent but not quite Garp. Russo is on the to-be-read list…
1) i loved a prayer for owen meany but have never read garp. now i need to.
2) book i have probably read the most times: the bell jar (well i was a moody teen/college student but still – what a great work);
excuse that random ; there 🙂
oh, and i’ve read a number of murakami’s books more than once – the wind-up bird chronicle and kafka on the shore. so good.
Ender’s Game (as a kid) and Confederacy of