Every year I like to make sure I reread some of my books. Sometimes they come round in quite quick rotation, other times it takes twenty years.
I reread for different purposes. Often it’s just comfort reading: a chance to reunite with old friends. Other times it’s about wanting to go back and see what exactly it was I loved or admired about such-and-such a book, and making another attempt to squeeze something out of it, to learn from it. And with other books, perhaps I’m looking for a new angle, now that I’m a bit older. Has the book changed, or have I?
Also, rereading is about justifying to myself the fact that I’ve got a life and a house completely chockablock with the books I have read. Our recent roofing-and-ceiling disasters have only served to underline that. Even the undamaged books are currently in plastic boxes and piled to the ceiling, with only a fraction of the books I own accessible to me. Why do I keep them all? I wonder about this quite a lot, and much more in recent weeks. I look on almost in envy at the people I know who read things and pass them on easily, without a qualm.
What would be ideal, perhaps, would be to retain only ‘keepers’ that you know you’ll want to read again, and let all the rest return to the swirl of endless book exchanges. But… how do I know? How will I ever know what might become important as time moves on? What seems throwaway right now might be anything but when it comes to the future…
I love having a house filled with books because of those moments when someone’s talking and they trigger a thought or a memory, and you can turn to the exact book and give it to them, saying: ‘You need to read this! Here!’
Anyhow – this year I read mostly books that were new to me (the usual mix of brand new and older) and I sprinkled throughout the months various things that I wanted to study again.
And what I found is another virtue to rereading. Going back to books that I loved and books that I know are unquestionably good – it slows me down. It gives me focus. It gives me room to breathe. In almost every case the books in the following list of favourites were ones that I reread when I was on the point of panic this year. When rotten stuff was happening, or when I was having difficulties with my own work. These books – because I trust them – helped me orient myself and helped me to slow time down.
Looking at the books I revisited this year, I see that they were in different genres – literary, family saga, science fiction, fantasy and children’s fiction – but they were all excellent examples of each.
While England Sleeps – David Leavitt; The Many-Colored Land – Julian May; Magician’s Gambit – David Eddings; Ladder of Years – Anne Tyler; Yesterday’s Son – A.C Crispin; Charlotte’s Web – E.B White.