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?