Friday, July 01, 2011

Who Says You Can’t Go Back? Returning to the Books We’ve Loved Before

Here at January Magazine, with the best of all that is new constantly near at hand, it’s tough enough to choose between the hot new offerings without going back and revisiting trails that have already been walked. But what about old favorites? And what about the parts of us that change over the years and pull new insights from well-loved texts?

Booktopia Book Guru John Purcell today asks himself the same question. As he says, “with so little time to read in life, it makes sense to keep trying new things.” Still, Purcell points out, there is a case to be made for looking back:
But every so often, while looking for something new, I stumble across something old, something I read long ago. Holding it my hands, I realise it is at best, half remembered. Flicking it open, I discover parts of myself pressed and dried between its pages. Fragile emotions unused to light and air which disintegrate before my eyes. I acknowledge that the person I was when I read the book is lost to me forever, but the book itself is not. But do I dare read it again?
All of us who love books have special favorites whose resonances seem to alter -- and richen and deepen -- as we mature. There are a handful of books I try to revisit every few years. Tolstoy’s War and Peace is one of my lifetime favorites, though these days I tend only to attempt another run when a new translation appears. I’ve enjoyed several long visits with Taylor Caldwell’s Captains and the Kings since my first read of the book when I was an adolescent. The things I take away from Calder now are much (much!) different than they were on my earliest passes, but I love the book no less now. And it still breaks my heart. A more recent favorite has been Jonathan Lethem’s wonderful 1994 novel, Gun, with Occasional Music. This skillful blend of science fiction with hardboiled detective always wows me with its language and its light. And I always (always) love Lethem’s voice.

Though every year I’m delighted to discover ore books that I love, there are very few that seem to demand another read at a future point. How about you? Which books call you back?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I used to take The Catcher in the Rye with me every time I flew - which for a while in my life was quite a lot. I'm not a great "flier" and I could never concentrate properly on a brand new book. Catcher was so familiar to me, and operated like a security blanket. I could read and occupy my time but also be comforted by its familiarity. I just realised how odd this is as I write it. Oh well...

Saturday, July 2, 2011 at 11:43:00 PM PDT  
Blogger Georgie Lee said...

Books I go back to are The Stand, Watership Down, The Handmaid's Tale and Lady Chatterly's Lover. It's been a while since I've re-read them, maybe it is time.

Sunday, July 3, 2011 at 4:18:00 PM PDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Every few years I read all ten books of the Martin Beck series by Swededes, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. The two best are the first, Roseanna, which introduces this dour and dogged Swedish homicide cop and The Laughing Policeman, in which his squad has to figure out why one of their own was killed in a massacre on a bus. The books are chronological and the emotional growth of the main character, and the societal changes of the 60's and 70's are as important as the crimes Beck so ably solves.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011 at 8:18:00 AM PDT  
Blogger Corey Redekop said...

I always go back to The World According to Garp, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and Fahrenheit 451. Every few years I reread all of them, and it's high time for another visit.

Monday, July 18, 2011 at 4:10:00 AM PDT  

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