Monday, August 09, 2004

Second Looks

According to a new study by the American Library Assocation, Alice Walker's The Color Purple ranks among the fiction most commonly reread. Other books likely to inspire a rereading include J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy, Shakespeare's plays, and Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. (Confession: I've never given the latter even a first reading.)

The ALA's ad hoc committee of librarians and editors (from Library Journal and Booklist) also put on its frequently-revisted-titles list: F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (yep, read it twice), Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird (read it two, maybe three, times), Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie (read 'em 'til the covers fell off) and Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol (that's a seasonal phenomenon, right?).

Committee head Neal Wyatt speculated that "books that get reread have characters or scenes or lessons that people want to go back to again and again. Some books need repetitive readings just to feel like you got it. And sometimes it's not even fair to say the books are reread because you are a different person each time you read them."* Naturally. And to that I would add that some books are keepers of our histories. In the same way that a particular scent can send us hurtling back in time, certain books let us peek through the eys of a younger person, experiencing the world as she was right then, at the time of the first reading. It reconnects us to the apirations, inexperience, and innocence of a nearly forgotten self.

Lately, life feels too short for much rereading of for-pleasure fiction. At first, I thought I hadn't reread that many books. But then my list of exceptions started to expand. Exceptions: Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men, Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Kate Chopin's The Awakening, and Sinclair Lewis' Main Street and It Can't Happen Here. (I miss the old cover art on all these.)

In childhood, I reread some of my Judy Blume books ("Why does that kid in Then Again Maybe I Won't? keep wetting the bed?") and other pre-teen fiction, including Katerine Pateron's Jacob I Have Loved (about sibling rivalry, but also what it meant to be a girl who couldn't win at "girly" games).

Hmmm... but that list of rereads doesn't reveal anything about me, does it?

I'd be curious to know what books other people have reread. (By choice, that is. I reread Wordworth's The Prelude, but did so for two different college courses, so that doesn't count.) Were those re-readings formative, nostalgia-driven, or accidental?

Try as I might, I can't locate the ALA's official list of books frequently reread. Nor can I find any concrete explanation as to how the committee devised that list. Can any of my librarian friends help me out with this one?

(*Quote from Hillel Italie's 8/9/04 Associated Press article.)


At 12:57 PM, Blogger ~profgrrrrl~ said...

Wow. Jacob Have I Loved. I haven't thought of that book in years, but I read it several times over when I was younger.

Others on my list would include A Wrinkle in Time and Wuthering Heights, although I've not picked up either in ages. The former was, well, formative -- and since, along with every other Madeleine L'Engle (all well-worn in my collection), I have re-read for the nostalgia factor. The latter was a college days obsession.

I think I re-read books a lot when I was younger, in part because I enjoyed them so much and in part because I was a voracious reader and had limited access at times to new books.

Since then I read Mosely's Hopeful Monsters a few times, trying to get the full impact of it. I read Byatt's Possession twice during the same period in a not-entirely-unrelated act.

I'm sure there have been others since, but right now I can't recall. I've read the Harry Potter books, but gave them away as soon as I finished. Haven't read The Color Purple or LotR. Read Pride and Prejudice for a class.

At 8:33 PM, Blogger New Kid on the Hallway said...

I reread a lot of stuff, a lot of which you mentioned: Lord of the Rings, check; Laura Ingalls Wilder, check; Harry Potter, check (am rereading #5 right now!); most of Margaret Atwood's books, especially Cat's Eye; The Chronicles of Narnia; Nevil Shute's books; Anne McCaffrey's Pern books; Jane Smiley's Moo; Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials series; Dorothy Sayers's Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries; Elizabeth George's mysteries.

I would say that the books I really keep coming back to again and again to reread (many of which are kids' books, I guess), are books that contain my favorite scenes ever, and I make myself read the whole thing to get to the good parts. Eowyn slaying the lord of the Nazgul, for instance, in Lord of the Rings; or Jack's return in Little House on the Prairie. I wait until it's been long enough that those scenes are just slightly dimmed in my memory, then I reread, trying not to let myself remember that those scenes are coming, so I can try to experience them almost as if for the first time again.

But basically I will reread anything if it's been on my shelf long enough, and I have already reread everything else, and I have no access to any other fiction. I am one of those people who really would read the phonebook, if I had nothing else.

At 5:35 PM, Blogger Mel said...

This is a really interesting slant on the reading question. I have to do so much rereading since I teach literature that it's hard to distinguish from my "own" reading. Very frequently a book I discovered on my own then finds its way into a syllabus. When I was young: the Alcott books, the Wilder books, all of Andre Norton's SF books, the McCaffery Pern books, Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising series, and the Lloyd Alexander series. I loved series -- being able to really dive into an alternate world.

At 12:58 AM, Blogger Benedict said...

Odd. I found several articles that reference the list, but no direct links. But then, I only had about 20 minutes before the next user came down the queue.

At 1:02 PM, Blogger Dr. Crazy said...

I reread all of the time, and it's something I've done since I was a kid. Childhood rereading favorites included The Witch of Blackbird Pond, The Anne of Green Gables series, and the Little House books.

Now, the books I reread for pleasure (since I teach lit I reread a lot of things for work and that's different) tend not to be "good for me" books. I've reread the Bridget Jones books a bunch of times, as well as Judith Krantz novels (don't ask - I'm somehow addicted to them - I think it's the clothes). I reread books to the point that I can go to favorite scenes before I go to sleep and just read those - it's much more relaxing than reading something new, kind of like watching a movie over and over and over again.

At 3:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A not so sympathetic review of Byatt's possession can be found here.


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