August 3, 2010

Re-Reading, Do You Do It? Your 'To Re-Read Top-Ten List'?

The subject for this posting was actually inspired by Lisa on her literary blog at Bibliophiliac, and I mentioned that maybe I'd do a posting about what books we tend to re-read, and why.  So without further ado, I've a couple of questions for you:

1.  Do you typically re-read books?  If not, why not?  If so, may I be nosy enough as to inquire about what criteria you generally use in reaching a decision to to re-read a book?

2.  What books would you include in your 'Top-Ten Novels to Re-Read' List?

Regarding the first question, I do re-read books, and not all that infrequently either.  Most of the time it is after a few years have passed and I just get a hankerin' to revisit a specific author, or a particularly favorite novel.  I have a few books that are just timeless classics for me, and I just get more and more out of them with each visit (e.g., Tolstoy's Anna Karenina).  Generally, my only criteria is that I had to have loved it the first time around (e.g., Dickens's Bleak House), or I grew to love it over time (e.g., Austen's Mansfield Park, or Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway).

People tend to look somewhat askance when I casually mention that I am re-reading 'such-and-such.'  Typically, I get in return, "Why would you read it again, when you've already read it?"  Without 'smacking them up-side-the-head,' I kindly reply, "Because it was so good the first time I read it, I want to see if it still is."  That usually shuts 'em up.  Seriously though, folks, re-reading a favorite book is like visiting an old friend--it is comfortable, companionable, and there's always something new to learn and appreciate.  In short, it strengthens the relationship!  Take a moment and share your opinions of what re-reading books means to you.

My 'Top-Ten Novels to Re-Read' List (in no particular order):

Les Miserables, Victor Hugo -- A serious 'fat book' that is simply sensational.  I just purchased the new Julie Rose translation (2008) in hardcover, and am really looking forward to revisiting it soon!

The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton -- 'Oh, Lily Bart, Lily Bart, Lily Bart, whatever am I to do with you?'  I will always love this novel.  Edith Wharton is probably my favorite American author, and this novel is one reason why!

Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy -- Another 'fat book' that has stayed with me since the first time I read it.  This is the novel that I have probably re-read the most over the past 30+ years, and occupies a spot in my 'Top-Five Favorite Books' list.

The Stand, Stephen King -- What can I say?  Stephen King's "The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition" is just the ultimate post-apocalyptic tale.  My gut says that this novel will still be read 150 years from now. Oh, and it is another 'fat book' too!

Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy -- Tess, one of fiction's most famous women.  On that basis alone, Thomas Hardy's Tess of that "delicate feminine tissue" is well worth revisiting!  I just re-read it again for the first time in a long, long time, and was perhaps even more profoundly devastated this time around.

Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy -- I just finished reading this novel for the very first time, and realize that this is clearly Hardy's magnum opus, and there is a lifetime of study ahead of me to fully grasp this novel.  Maybe a modern re-telling of the biblical story of Job?  This is a hugely significant novel, in my opinion.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke -- Clarke's debut novel, and just brilliant.  I have described this 'fat book' as magical, mysterious, dreamy, witty and funny, and incredibly engaging.  Without sounding too trite, the characters are Dickensian, the dialog Austenesque, some of the vision and fantasy of Lewis Carroll, and much of the prose like that of Patrick O'Brian.

Possession, A. S. Byatt -- This novel is like peeling an onion.  Each time you read it, you peel back a layer and expose a whole new world to appreciate and ponder.  It was this novel that allowed me to develop a life-long love for the poetry of Christina Rossetti, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and the Brownings.  I love this novel with all of my heart and soul!

Outer Dark, Cormac McCarthy -- Personally, I view McCarthy's writing as the contemporary American descendant of the Victorian Thomas Hardy.  This novel, not particularly well-known, is perhaps the most powerful of all of his novels.  It is a massive 'punch to the gut' to read, but the prose is powerful and moving.  McCarthy paints one helluva portrait of Appalachia in the early-20th century.  Read it!  Re-read it!

O Pioneers!, Willa Cather -- My oldest daughter turned me on to this beautiful novel.  "O Pioneers!" describes life on the Nebraska prairie at the beginning of the 20th century.  This is one of the most lyrical and emotionally powerful books by an American author, and is brilliantly plotted too.  It is interesting to me, but not surprising, that both Edith Wharton and Willa Cather were the first and second women, respectively, to win the Pulitzer prize for fiction (Wharton in 1921, and Cather in 1923).

Well, there we are.  My thoughts, and my list.  What say all of you?


  1. I do re-read books, but not many and not often. I have far too many books left unread at all to be doing much re-reading. Still, I've read the Harry Potter series, for instance, many, many times. As well as some others. Just a brief overview of those I have already read many times, and will read at least once again in the future (I like this idea, by the way):

    1. Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (maybe I should count this as seven separate books)
    2. Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
    3. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
    4. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
    5. The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
    6. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
    7. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
    8. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
    9. The Confidence Man by Herman Melville
    10. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

  2. I'm not a re-reader, though I did re-read some this summer. Just the "books I say I love but about which I don't remember anything." I plan on doing some more re-reading once I get my TBR down to 150. I look forward to re-reading: Anna Karenina, Persuasion, Les Mis, and the Grapes of Wrath.

  3. I used to reread all the time, but I fell out of the habit and only started again this year. Some books I reread for the chance to revisit old friends; others I reread because they are such amazingly rich works that they demand multiple reads; and then there are books that I want to refresh my memory on and the ones that I think deserve a second chance because I read them before I was ready.

    I love your reread list! All the ones on it that I've read (Hardy, Clarke, Byatt, Wharton) are well worth multiple visits. Other great rereads for me have been Howards End, anything by Jane Austen, Jane Eyre, Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (reread was on audio), and The Lord of the Rings.

  4. Good list! I'll probably post about this, but lets just say that I love rereading--if the book is really good (Like Middlemarch or House of Mirth) then I get so much more from it on the 2nd or even 3rd read.

  5. I re-read many of my books, just because I enjoy them every time! Some I re-read often (annually, or more frequently) and some I pick up every few years. It all depends on what I am craving. :)

    Regular friends:

    1. Jane Austen: P & P, Persuasion
    2. Tolkien: Lord of the Rings (all 3)
    3. Dickens: Christmas Carol
    4. Terry Pratchett (many titles)

    Less Frequently:

    !. Agatha Christie: Poirot mostly
    2. W. Collins: Moonstone
    3. Bronte: Wuthering Heights

    There are many more, including some juvenile and YA that I re-read,too.

  6. A big 'Thank you' to each and every one of you for your comments. It is great getting your perspectives, and discovering some your 'faves' too. Cheers! Chris

  7. I do re-read, but it's less of a priority for me to re-read than it is to read new books. If I were to re-read something the first thing I would probably go for would be a Shakespeare play (most likely King Lear), because I always get something completely different out of them each time I read them. Otherwise, I'd probably re-read old favorites and books I read in school and would appreciate more coming back to them now.

  8. I'm with Roof Beam Reader--I have so many books that I haven't yet read for the first time that I haven't done much re-reading recently. I did this a lot when I was younger, though. I'd say the majority of books I've re-read were children's books (many of which I have revisited as an adult and shared with my children). That said, however, most of the books in my personal "library" are ones I would enjoy re-reading.

  9. I occasionally re-read, although I tend to focus more on books I haven't read yet. When I do re-read the ones that I typically go to over and over are:

    The Screwtape Letters
    Bridge to Terabithia
    Blue Like Jazz
    A Prayer for Owen Meany

  10. Great list, Chris! Although I haven't read some of them, but Les Mis and Anna have been on my TBR for years. I just need a good, long trip during which I can really sink my teeth into them.

    This is an interesting topic. I often feel guilty about re-reading novels because I have so many that I still want to read, so even if I am in the mood I usually talk myself out of it. That being said, novels I have re-read are:

    - all of Austen's novels (esp. Persuasion)
    - Tess of the D'Urbervilles (heartbreakingly good)
    - Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre (favorites as a teenager, so I have revisited a few times as an adult to see how my experience with the novels have changed)

    Novels that I want to re-read because I love them:
    - The Road, C. McCarthy
    - One Hundred Years of Solitude, G.G. Marquez
    - Sons and Lovers, D.H. Lawrence
    - Vanity Fair, W.M. Thackeray
    - East of Eden, J. Steinbeck
    - anything Gaskell

    Novels that I should re-read so that I can wrap my brain around them better:
    - Lord Jim, J. Conrad
    - Jude the Obscure, T. Hardy

  11. I used to be rather frightened of rereading - I didn't want to ruin my first impressions (always of awed love and adoration; books I didn't like I rarely finished). I had a habit of reading quickly, and I sometimes wondered if I had read so rapidly that I hadn't caught the true significance of the book the first time around. What if I didn't like it, upon a second read?

    But I've since given up my fears, because there are some books that have proven utterly magnetic. I've also reconciled myself to the fleeting nature of first impressions - they can be difficult to preserve, and so why not reread? Why not discover what I may have not picked up before? Rereading strengthens the relationship, as you observed. And my relationship with books has now reached the point where I cannot be satisfied with simply consuming them once and tossing them aside - those days are done!

    I'm most eager to reread "The Mayor of Casterbridge", which I first read when I was fourteen and sick with the flu. I spent the entire day in bed reading, and so "Mayor" won the distinction of being the first classic book I ever finished in single day. I want to reread it to ascertain whether the absolute love I bear for it is nostalgia or not. Not that there's anything wrong with nostalgia; it defines a great many of my preferences!

    Next on my list are Charles Pallister's The Quincunx (the first modern novel I read since I began to ease off my years-long diet of classics) and Susanna Clarke's "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell" (cheers!) And then there's--

    4) Orlando, by Virginia Woolf (I love the concept of this story so much. But Woolf's prose, frankly, terrifies me. I listened to "Orlando" the first time around and mean to read it now)

    5 & 6) Middlemarch and Romola, by George Eliot
    7) Misery, by Stephen King

    ... and finally, my magnetic and eternal favourites (... which are probably all cheating, granted...):

    8) the Temeraire series, by Naomi Novik
    8) the Song of Fire and Ice series, by George R. R. Martin
    10) the Bartimaeus series, by Jonathan Stroud

    Thank you for this interesting post; I'm delighted to have found your blog!

  12. Entish, 'thanks' for the thoughtful comment! I have yet to read Eliot's "Romola" or Palliser's "The Quincinx." They are both in my TBR pile.

    Ah, another confirmed lover of Clarke's "Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell"! I rave about that novel to any who'll listen. I just loved your 'Fun Fact About Yourself' No. 5--

    "5) I worship at the Altar of Footnotes. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, anyone? That novel had magic, amoral Fair Folk, and footnotes galore. It was like Christmas and birthdays and the new Wii Zelda all in one!"

    Awesome, and I wholeheartedly concur! Cheers! Chris

  13. Great list! I read your praises of George Eliot on Bibliophilic's blog and had to pop on over for a visit. I'm not a reader of Stephen King, but maybe I'll have to give The Stand a try. I've seen it on many other best lists.

  14. Found you via the hop. I re-read books all the time, mostly because I'm trying to spend less money and I've long ago run out of space. I tend to re-read Fforde and Bryson a lot and I just recently finish Strange & Norrell and loved it, so I could see that getting added to the re-read list.

  15. I have a hard time re-reading, because I feel some sort of anxiety that I am leaving so many works as undiscovered.

    I have read "The Catcher in the Rye" three times and I will continue to read it every few years when I reach a crossroad.

    I would probably re-read due to emotion. When I wanted something to make me laugh I would probably read "A Prayer to Owen Meany" which was the most hilarious book I have ever read. If I wanted to transport myself to another world, I would re-read "The Hobbit" and if I needed to remind myself that introversion can be taken too far, I would probably re-read "Notes from Underground." If I was in the mood to be re-kindled with nature and humanity I would re-read "Doctor Zhivago" and if I just wanted to feel like someone understood me I would read the short stories of Ernest Hemingway.