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?