So next Tuesday night, if I don’t have rehearsal, I will be at the New York Public Library for the following evening event which sounds faaaaabulous:


Like romantic love, early book-love is ecstatic. As a young reader curls up with a novel, its fictional characters seem real, while the real world pales into comparative insignificance. Can that ecstasy be recaptured? Is a book–or a reader–the same the second time around? In an evening of conversation for bibliophiles, Anne Fadiman will explore the emotionally charged topic of rerereading along with David Samuels and David Michaelis, two of the authors who contributed to REREADINGS: Seventeen Writers Revisit Books They Love, a witty and poignant collection of essays that Fadiman selected and edited. Andr頁ciman will moderate.

Moderator Andr頁ciman muses: “The books I read once changed me more than the books I read today. I reread old books not only to rediscover what was so special about them, but to recover the kind of starstruck reader I was then.”

A couple things: Anne Fadiman is a personal idol of mine. Her book Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader is a must-read for anyone who is even mildly obsessive about reading. It’s a collection of essays about reading, and growing up in a family that reads (to the degree that they compulsively copy-edit the menus at the local Chinese restaurant) – it is laugh out loud funny. How she really knew she was married not when she said the vows, not when they moved into the same apartment – oh no no – she really knew she was really married when she and her husband “merged libraries” … woah. Huge step. To throw out a duplicate copy of The Great Gatsby … now THAT’S commitment to the future. She is a fantastic writer. She was also the editor of American Scholar, one of my favorite magazines – I don’t think she’s there anymore though. She also edits my favorite yearly compilation series: Best Magazine Writing – I buy it every year.

Look at her face! I just love her. She’s young, witty, hilarious and just – damn. The woman can write. Her style is David Sedaris-esque – but really, it’s a style all her own.

I admire her so much.

Anyway, it got me to thinking about re-reading. Over the past couple of years, I have gone back and “re-read” all the books I was FORCED to read in high school. Which has been great fun (and sometimes just as tortuous as the original experience).

But the “re-reading” that will be discussed at this panel thing next week is not that kind of re-reading – it’s when the charm of a certain book does not pall with the years. What are the books that you can re-visit – again and again and again, without any of the magic or power or whatever it was that had that first impact on you – dimming?

Everyone will have a different list, of course.

For me, here are the books that I compulsively re-read. I’ll be re-reading these specific books, periodically, until I croak. I can’t say that re-reading them gives me the sensation of the first time I read them … No, the delight is different. (Some of these books I read first when I was a child, others when I was an adult … I think there is a big difference. The books that captured me as a child are literally like magic carpets. I mean, look – I’m tracking them down over the Internet as we speak. Even the books I discovered as an adult – like Mating, for example, can’t TOUCH that kind of adoration.)

But for whatever reason, these books are books I will NEVER tire of. EVER. No matter how many times I have read them. I’m being honest here. You can’t be all linear about what you do or do not find to be magical. These books sucked me in the very first time I read them, and I guess they have never really let me go:

A Wrinkle in Timeby Madeleine L’Engle

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

The “Emily” series, by L.M. Montgomery (more so than the Anne of Green Gables series. Anne is wonderful, but Emily, for me, is addictive.)

Mating: A Novel, by Norman Rush

Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi.

Lives of the Saints, by Nancy Lemann

Sportsman’s Paradise, by Nancy Lemann

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Jane Eyre (Penguin Classics) by Charlotte Bronte

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis

Dubliners, by James Joyce

Hopeful Monsters by Nicholas Mosley

It (Signet Books) by Stephen King

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39 Responses to Re-Reading

  1. Curtis says:

    My list would be:
    Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
    Without Remorse by Tom Clancy
    Dune by Frank Herbert
    Godfather by Mario Puzo
    Dragonriders of Pern Series by Anne McCaffrey (I read all of her books when I was a teenager and still re-read them now. Great fantasy series)

    I am sure that Catch-22 will get added to this list but since I just read it for the first time this year…

  2. Cullen says:

    Wow, Curtis. Atlas Shrugged, Dune and Pern. You are a masochist. :)

    I second the Narnia series. Currently reading it to my children.
    I add:
    The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy series by DNA
    The Hellbound Heart, The Inhuman Condition, Weaveworld, Imagica and most everything by Clive Barker.

  3. Jayne says:

    Sheila, no Pat of Silver Bush???

  4. red says:

    Pat of Silver Bush needs deep psychotherapy before I re-read that book again. I’m sick of her fixation on her stupid childhood home. Get over it.

  5. Jayne says:


  6. Doug Sundseth says:

    “(to the degree that they compulsively copy-edit the menus at the local Chinese restaurant)”

    You mean there are people who don’t do this? And why won’t restaurants make editorial changes to those chalkboards they have in the front with the specials listed? They’re chalkboards; you can erase them.

    “she really knew she was really married when she and her husband ‘merged libraries'”

    The real question is how you handle it when you and your wife have different editions of the same book. Do you keep the one in the better condition, the earliest edition, or both? (We’ll leave aside the cases where you have more than two copies of the same book. There’s no hard-and-fast rule then.)

    Endlessly re-read books:

    The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Starship Troopers, Robert Heinlein

    The Lord of Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien

    Science Fiction Hall of Fame, vols. 1, 2A, and 2B

    which reminds me, ….

  7. Curtis says:


    Speaking of Author events…

    The National Book Festival is this weekend in DC. My wife and I went to it last year and it was incredible. You would love it. Ellis and McCullough are both here this year. Last year I listened to Chernow speak about the Hamilton biography. Really interesting.

    I am sad that we will be missing it (I have to go home for my niece’s birthday).

  8. Lisa says:

    My entire family reads while eating. One day when we were visiting my mom and dad, my husband snapped a picture of me, my brother, and both my parents sitting at the breakfast table, no one talking, all reading. (My dad and I were reading the paper, my mom her book, and my brother was reading the cereal box.)

  9. Stevie says:

    Red, so funny you mention Helter Skelter. I must’ve read that 20 times when I was younger. It just was so fascinating. I also read Sybil about 20 times. Those were the two books when I was a teen that kept me coming back for more. Hmm – murder and psychosis.

  10. LB says:

    To Kill a Mockingbird. Hands down.

  11. Cullen says:

    I envy you, Curtis, for getting to hear Chernow speak on his Hamilton bio. That was such an excellent book.

  12. Ann Marie says:

    I second To Kill A Mockingbird. Also, the Anne of Green Gables series, Daddy Long Legs, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, and Pride & Prejudice.

    I just re-read To Kill a Mockingbird again last week or so. As I’m lying in bed reading, my bf asked me if I thought it was going to turn out different this time. But for me, these people are old friends. I like seeing them again!

    Ann Marie

    P.S. Does anyone think I should let the brand-new dry cleaner in my neighborhood know that there’s an eensy-weensy error on his big sign out front, proclaiming: “Plant on Promise” ?!

  13. red says:

    witch of blackbird pond!!! Because of you, Ann, I went back and re-read that book – member? Back in Chicago? just magical!!!

  14. Doug Sundseth says:

    “P.S. Does anyone think I should let the brand-new dry cleaner in my neighborhood know that there’s an eensy-weensy error on his big sign out front, proclaiming: “Plant on Promise” ?!”

    Only bring it up if he doesn’t also finance farmers on the side. I don’t suppose it’s “Aristotle’s Dry Cleaning and Farm Loans”?

  15. red says:

    Or could it be a kind of warning? That a Little Shop of Horrors scenario could be going on in the back room??

  16. red says:

    “dry cleaning and farm loans”


  17. TeacherDave says:

    The Chronicles of Narnia–Lewis
    High Fidelity–Hornby
    Generation X–Coupland
    S. King’s “Dark Tower” series
    Lord of the Flies–Golding
    Farenheit 451–Bradbury

  18. Dan says:

    Ex Libris is a fabulous book. Once there was a girl I was head over heels in love. I bought her a copy and personally annotated it with notes about us.

    She later told me I wasn’t romantic enough. What’s not romantic about mutual book lust? Silly girl.

  19. Bryan says:

    My list:

    Ulysses – James Joyce
    Ada – Vladimir Nabokov
    Prometheus Unbound – P. B. Shelley
    The Collected Poems – Wallace Stevens
    Gravity’s Rainbow – Thomas Pynchon
    Watt – Samuel Beckett
    Malone Dies – Samuel Beckett
    Phaedrus – Plato
    Phaedo – Plato
    Dawn – Nietzsche
    Human, All Too Human – Nietzsche
    Beyond Good and Evil – Nietzsche
    Twilight of the Idols – Nietzsche
    The Will to Power – Nietzsche
    Agon – Harold Bloom (yes, I know that’s a weird choice, but it’s my list, all right?)

  20. red says:

    dan – nothing, I say NOTHING, is more romantic than book lust.

    Her loss.

  21. red says:

    bryan – You’re making me think I should re-visit Nietzsche. I read some of it in college.

  22. red says:

    I love reading people’s favorite book lists. It’s the same thing as when I go into someone’s house for the first time, and I must scan the bookshelves. Not to be nosy … it’s just really interesting.

  23. Just1Beth says:

    Anything by Danielle Steele. Or Pamela Anderson or Madonna.

  24. Bryan says:

    Hi Sheila,

    I was actually a little embarrassed at how much Nietzsche there is on my list. But he is a constant spiritual challenge to me, and I find myself returning to those books again and again.

  25. red says:

    Nietzsche isn’t as big a spiritual challenge as Pamela Anderson, I bet.

  26. Bryan says:


    Concerning browsing other people’s bookshelves, I actually tend to get a little miffed when I have a guest over who doesn’t look over my bookshelves, because it makes me think, “Don’t you care about finding out the sort of person that I am?”

  27. Bryan says:

    I’d like to pose a variant on the rereading list question. If you could choose just one Shakespeare play that you would never get tired of reading or watching again and again, which would it be? Mine would be “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

  28. Bryan says:

    Cool choice. The Tempest has always been something of a mystery to me, because it made me feel that it was a profound allegory of something, but I never was sure what. Of course, I haven’t studied the criticism and scholarship on that play. Gawain and the Green Knight makes me feel the same way. This story seems like it has a moral, but what it is?

  29. red says:

    well, it was the last play Shakespeare wrote – and you can feel the awareness of mortality running through it (even more so than his other plays) – I think it’s about creativity. Living the creative life. Where does creativity come from? Is it magic? Well, yes, it is … but what kind of magic? Spiritual or animal? Anyone who is an artist lives, in a way, in the world of The Tempest – I love it for that reason.

    Stephen Greenblatt, in his Will of the World, does a whole chapter on The Tempest – wonderful.

  30. red says:

    I think his name is Stephen Greenblatt. Not sure.

  31. Bryan says:

    Yes, I can see that. Prospero as the archetypal poet, or as Shakespeare himself, and Ariel and Caliban as two different sides of the poet’s personality. That makes me want to read Greenblatt’s book.

  32. red says:

    Oh man, it’s so good. Not your typical lit-crit, which (sorry) I despise.

    He makes you want to read all the plays again. Fun stuff.

  33. Mine would be (in no particular order)

    JRR Tolkien – The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings
    Patrick O’Brian – whose Aubrey/Maturin series can be classified as one huge novel with 20 volumes. Incomparable writing.
    Ursula LeGuin – Earthsea Trilogy (not any of the subsequent novels) I like her for the exact opposite reason I like Tolkien
    A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
    The Federalist Papers
    Egyptian stories (Sinuhe, The Shipwrecked Sailor)
    Greek tragedies

  34. red says:

    Federalist Papers! Whoo-hoo! You’re a woman after my own heart!! They’re always there to dip into, aren’t they? I feel the same way about them.

  35. Right now am immersed in ancient texts…Gilgamesh is dominating, with a children’s book on Homer (I am homeschooling). Egypt is on the horizon as well.

    *grin* For the last several years I had my nose buried in non-fiction/non-literary stuff, mainly to research for writing…but O’Brian pulled me back into reading for the sheer pleasure of it. I havent picked up the Fed Papers in a while…I think I might do that…when I have completed my third pass through the Aubreiad LOL (just started with M&C). But the Fed Papers have affected me greatly. Wish more people would read them.

  36. Cullen says:

    Oh man! How did I forgot The Federalist Papers? Excellent addition Sharon.

  37. red says:

    I swear, the Federalist Papers got me through last fall’s election. when i really felt like I was losing my way. I just kept going back to them – reminding myself why I love this country. I needed it, circa Oct. Nov. 2004.

  38. Mitchell says:

    Stuart Little and The Diary of Anne Frank

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