Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Favourite Re-reads of 2013

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.


  1. I'm a big fan of re-reading, as you probably know by now. In fact I now dedicate two months a year to it - January and July - and try to make most of those months re-reading time. Oh, it's lovely, picking that pile - I'm starting to mull over January's ones already.

    I re-read for the same reasons as you, but also, I have to say, to see if it IS worth keeping an author or a genre. Last year I read one of my old Dave Gorman "quest" type books to see if those were read-it-once-ers. They're not. And I re-read a Joanna Trollope and really wasn't sure - because I've had those novels for so long, the house would be odd without them ...

    1. I think my reading plans are always much less organised than yours, Liz! I think February would be a good month to devote to comfort reading only, since it's so dismal. I might work on that idea!

    2. I organised myself like that because I kept bemoaning the fact that I wasn't doing any re-reading, but never really did anything about it!

  2. If you would tell me the heart of a man, tell me not what he reads, but what he rereads.” Fran├žois Mauriac

    It's a good quote--what we return to stays with us and in your writing, Paul, I can sometimes see flickers and echoes of those wonderful writers that you've taken to your heart.

    1. thank you! that's a lovely thing to say.