Top Ten (Or, er, Six) Books to Re-read

For years now, my husband has been telling me–everytime I close a book and start babbling about how brilliant it was and how much I loved it–that I should start over from the beginning, re-read it, and see how it’s put together. And it’s not that I’ve disagreed with that, but there are so many books I want to read that it’s hard to go back and pull an old one off the shelf, even a favorite.

But it’s occurred to me that lately that maybe a book can’t BE a favorite if you’ve only read it once. I would never call a movie a favorite if I’d only seen it once. I mean, I’ve watched The African Queen and Rooster Cogburn and It Happened One Night at least a dozen times a piece. A novel is different–more time consuming, for one thing–but, like a movie, there is an advantage to knowing how it’s going to end. To being able to let loose of the plot and focus more on the details: character, voice, perfect little phrasings. The re-read does let you step back and, as my husband says, see how it’s put together.

As you might suspect, these thoughts have been in my head because I did finally listen to his advice. I just picked up one of my single-read favorites, Richard Russo’s Empire Falls, and I am at least as enchanted with it as I was the first time.  (I also just finished Russo’s new memoir, Elsewhere, which I think I loved largely because perhaps more than it’s about a man’s life, it’s about how a writer’s themes develop, how personal history leads to those themes that you circle back to again and again. I don’t know if he meant it to be about the blur between fictional themes and real-life experience. But it works beautifully.)

Here’s my list at the moment of what I want to reread…

1) Empire Falls
2) Beloved by Toni Morrison (read it three times already, but it’s been years)
3) The River Midnight by Lillian Nattel (read it twice, but it’s been years)
4)Bleak House (my favorite Dickens–but it’s a lot of pages to re-read)
5) Run by Ann Patchett (my favorite Patchett)
6) The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewki

I’ll add more, I’m sure. I’d like to add McCullough’s Truman to the list, but I just don’t think I’m willing to do all 800 pages. And this list excludes some favorites I’ve already read countless times: Jane Eyre (probably my most re-read book), Pride & Prejudice (yes, I’m such a girl), and the entire Harry Potter series.

Anyone out there have favorite re-reads of their own?


  1. Kathy Carpenter on November 16, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    Great topic! It is fun to trace the web of a well-written book in a reread. I’m being forced to do that now with Pat Barker’s Regeneration and Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway for a paper I’m writing. By the way, have you read Russo’s That Old Cape Magic? It’s not as good as Empire Falls, but it still a good read. When I have time I want to reread Martel’s Life of Pi.

    By the way, I just remembered you as a kid reading “It” in the hotel bathroom near Yosemite in about a day. I think I have those details right. Anyway, I’m pretty sure you could read Truman in a day or two.

    • Gin Phillips on November 20, 2012 at 11:25 am

      I think I’ve read all of Russo other than his first book, a collection of short stories. I’m about to e-mail you with a longer reply.

  2. Crystal on January 5, 2013 at 1:28 am

    The Well and the Mine is my favorite book. It’s the one I read and reread for inspiration, for perspective, and to remind myself about the better nature of people. Often, after reading a passage I think, “Damn! I wish I would have wrote that…” but then I’m thankful that you did! I work in a library and recommend this book often, my patrons always fall in love with it too 🙂

    • Gin Phillips on January 28, 2013 at 1:25 pm

      Wow–thanks so much! I really appreciate that! I’m grateful whenever a reader likes the book, but librarians are the toughest critics of all…so I’m doubly grateful. What city is your library in?

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