Rereading

I had intended to post a picture of some of my recent acquisitions today, but have been foiled: the camera is out of battery charge, and my limited technical competence means I can’t fix this.  You should know that the pile contains Winifred Holtby’s West Riding, some more Willa Cather, The Hare with the Amber Eyes and much else that is good and tempting (including biographies of Fanny Trollope and Patricia Highsmith). But this will have to be a project postponed for another day. (And it means a rather shorter post in consequence!)

In the meantime, I have been extremely fortunate with my reading so far this year. Everything has been a hit. I’ve just finished Ross Macdonald’s The Galton Case, and loved it. When a rich, elderly lady decides she wants to track down her son, missing for twenty years, for an overdue reconciliation, private investigator, Lew Archer, is given to understand that the case is probably hopeless. However, in no time at all, he has a skeleton on his hands and a young man claiming to be the missing man’s son. This novel was full of sharp lines and wisecracks and brilliant observations, and the plot was a delight. I’ll definitely be reading more of Ross Macdonald. And then I’ve just started Margaret Oliphant’s Miss Marjoriebanks and it is a JOY. I am having a complete ball with the nineteenth century at present. I don’t know why I thought it was all Dickens and Hardy. Oliphant’s eponymous heroine is described on the back cover as a cross between Mary Poppins and Boadicea (how I wish I had thought of that myself!) and this is a most apt description. She has returned home to be a ‘comfort’ to her widower father, whether he likes it or not, and is at present conquering society in the small town of Carlingford.Then I’ve also been listening to John Mortimer’s tales of Rumpole of the Bailey on audio book. I don’t know whether these have ever made it to more far-flung shores, but Rumpole is a bit of a British institution. A curmudgeonly but effective criminal barrister, with a formidable wife (familiarly known as She Who Must Be Obeyed), Rumpole’s cases have made for perfect audio pleasure. I love it when lawyers write – their own field requires such dazzling precision of language, so their  skills transfer very naturally to the fictional domain. I had never read Rumpole before, but I am currently appreciating him no end.

So all this, the new books, and the recently discovered delights, has got me thinking about the ways in which I want my library, and my reading to grow. As you know, I am stockpiling shamelessly before the ebook takes over the world, and it occurs to me that I should have a think about my erratic book buying habits. Up until now I have simply followed my whim and acquired the books that looked most tempting. But I ought to be giving some serious thought to what I would like a proper collection of books to contain.  Graham Greene, for instance, whom I’ve only recently read and enjoyed, really ought to be represented on the shelves. The nineteenth century authors Mary Elizabeth Braddon and Margaret Oliphant are authors whose works and biographies I’m really interested in. Who else am I missing who ought to be there? Of course the field of literature is vast, and I suppose I shouldn’t hope to cover it all (a French friend of mine once said to me, on seeing my recent purchases ‘You don’t have to read everything that’s ever been published, you know!’ I didn’t like to argue, but…) So I’m wondering whether the rereading test would prove to be the most useful for discrimination. Which authors would you reread most readily? Because of their beautiful writing, or vibrant characters, or richness of theme, or just because the story never fails to enchant? I’ve never been much of a one for rereading, but I can feel it’s draw lately. I do reread favourite Golden Age crime, and I’ve often had to reread European classics for work. But rereading for pleasure – which writers and novels would you reread most willingly? And I’ll consider them for my shelves.

25 thoughts on “Rereading

  1. Pretty much any book I enjoyed on first read is a go for a reread. And then books I didn’t like are definitely on the list too. I LOVE rereading. Books are really very different when you’re in a different stage of life.

    And I’m so glad to hear about Oliphant. I definitely need to give her a go, as I know very little about her books.

  2. Litlove, what a question. I’m sure your shelves will groan even more after your constant readers reply.

    I’ll limit myself to three authors who I’m thinking of today (in four years it may change): Blaise Cendrars (_Moravagine_, the two Dan Yack books, and his four-volume ‘autobiography’); William Gaddis’ _The Recognitions_ and _J R_; and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s _August 1914_ and _November 1916_. I’d have said Henry Miller’s _Tropic of Cancer_ but I think I’ve absorbed all I could from it.

    Happy reading, and happy collating of titles from the many responses you’ll get.

  3. So the Oliphant character who is a “cross between Mary Poppins and Boadicea” can do some major damage with and umbrella and a spoon full of sugar?😉

    I am always happy to reread Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf and Margaret Atwood.

  4. We do get Rumpole here, both the tv series (or have anyway) and the books. I like him too! It sounds like wonderfully fun reading. I tend not to re-read because I don’t have time, but I have read Alice Munro’s stories again and probably will re-read Molly Fox’s Birthday to see in greater detail how the authors do what they do. When I was younger I re-read favourite books, which included Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, Charlotte Bronte and L.M. Montgomery, the books I loved as a kid.

  5. I just picked up a Margaret Oliphant myself, and it looks great (though I am currently in Lady Audley’s Secret , which I am enjoying very much). Books come and go at my house, but there are a handful of authors whose books I have read, and reread, over the two and a half decades since I became more or less an adult reader. And the top winners are:

    Thomas Hardy
    Robertson Davies
    Iris Murdoch

    …and in all three cases, the reason is the same… they are modern fabulists, and something in me yearns deeply for externalized archetypes. They all embody this to differing degrees and in different ways; Hardy is a morality play fatalist, Davies is a Jungian alchemist, Murdoch strips even the most advanced-seeming people down to their basics. And all of them, oddly, are rather awkward storytellers at times … they are all philosophers, and they write novels of ideas.

  6. Your recent reads sound wonderful! Have not tried either of those authors but must look into them. As far as re-reading goes, I hardly ever do that but lately I’ve thought of some books I’ve read long ago that I know I loved but hardly remember so I’m wondering why not re-read them. Would be interesting actually to see if I loved them just as much 10-15 years later.

  7. Thanks for reminding me of Rumpole! I had forgotten about him but I enjoyed his grumbly antics very much.
    I reread some classic favorites. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and Bronte’s Wuthering Heights and Austen’s Pride and Prejudice never get old. Whatever your classic favorites are, I would think, bear rereading. After a decade or more, especially, they’re ripe to be enjoyed afresh – maybe in new ways.

  8. I actually just completed a reread in January – Swan Song, by Richard McCammon, but I wouldn’t recommend it here only because it is a pretty gory post-nuclear war story – but I was pulled to reread it because of a particular relationship between two of the characters I wanted to reacquaint myself with. The only absolute must-haves I can think of for my own collection include Pat Conroy, Jane Austen, David Sedaris and now Michael Malone…but I tend to lend out quite a few of my books, and I am the lucky recipient of many lent to me, so I feel like my collection is always in a state of flux…

  9. Yes, John Mortimer…I’ve re-read Summer’s Lease several times and it gets better every time. I have a longstanding comfort relationship with Sue Limb’s novels Up the Garden Path and Love’s Labours. She mainly writes for teenagers now, but those adult comedies still tickle me. Her obvious learning and love of literature is spun frothy light in them in a way that really appeals.

    Then there’s my collection of F Scott Fitzgerald. The writing’s so dreamy I don’t think they’ll ever wear thin for me.

  10. Pingback: Random thoughts for a Friday | Of Books and Bicycles

  11. Oh, hooray for your enjoying Ross Macdonald (who would definitely be on my reread list, if I had ever made it through all his books)! I have been interested in Oliphant lately myself (although not read), and I haven’t read Rumpole, either (although a big hit in my family. Years ago, my father gave my mother the “She Who Must Be Obeyed” sweatshirt). I never used to reread (as an adult, I mean. I reread all the time as a child) until fairly recently, but I’ve discovered I really, really love doing so. My list would include Dodie Smith (well, she only wrote the one I’ve read and reread, but I did so — even as an adult — before I became enamored of rereading), Charlotte Bronte, Arthur Conan-Doyle, E. Nesbit, Jane Austen…I’ll stop there, because I realize I am busy naming all those I have recently been rereading. But let me add one 21st-century writer who didn’t start writing until the 21st century (because I am sure they might get short shrift in such a list): Tana French. Oh, and if you haven’t already read it, Anne Fadiman’s edited collection Rereadings seems like a must for your proper collection of print books (nowhere near as good in digital format, I’m sure. You’ll see when you read it).

  12. I reread things that made me happy when I read them the first time. Can I recommend the Brownings’ letters to each other before their marriage, if you can find a copy? They read like a novel in a lot of ways and I have found them eminently rereadable. Also, James Herriot. I read James Herriot when I wake up with a particularly awful nightmare, and he always does the trick.

  13. Ah, Rumpole! My yes, we know him–thanks to the television. My father is a huge fan (he lives with SWMBO after all, in the guise of my mother😉 ) & I confess I enjoy his curmudgeonly self as well, though my heart belongs to Adam Dalgliesh (PD James) and Inspector Morse…
    Virginia Woolf (fiction or non-)
    Jane Eyre
    Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass
    Gabriel Garcia Marquez

  14. A cross between Mary Poppins and Boadicea does sound intriguing. I am a bad rereader. There are many books I might one day reread but the list would be very long, I’ll spare you that. Just one Jacques Roumain’s Gouverneurs de la rosée (Masters of the Dew). It has been on my mind lately for various reasons and I do want to read it again soon. One book that I have actually read twice contains the short stories of Maria Luisa Bombal.

  15. oh, my – what would I reread? Well, let me stall on answering that one (wishing I could come with something that would be dazzling) and assure you that Rumpole is known well enough in this house – you might be surprised at how many things from your island permeate the vastness and are captured in this little house near the Mississippi. (I am currently listening to Austen’s PERSUASION on a CD on my way to work and I am so enthralled with the reading of it – I should know who the reader is – but it’s so good I am looking for ways to go for a drive. I am off topic…) In a nutshell, it seems winter is when we bask in a British glow, watching our DVD series of UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS and DUTCHESS OF DUKE ST and HM read poetry aloud…oh, sorry, off track again. And then there are the PROVINCIAL LADY OF…books. I might reread those, actually.

    Anyway, a big yest to Rumpole. And of course I scribbled down one or two books you mention and am momentarily worried: will actual books be in short supply with the e-readers? egads, hadn’t thought of that. You see? that’s the one chink in the armor I have assumed against my usual crazed book buying, that is the one bit of light shining through it that says, “ah, but I really HAD better buy books, after all…” That’s ok. I’ll stay in the house and not go charging around the city, ducking into bookstores. I’ll behave. Besides, I have to. It’s snowing (AGAIN) and the plows haven’t bothered with our little street and I guess it’s because it’s Saturday and they think we have no where to go. But I want to look at MISS MARJORIEBANKS now that you’ve mentioned it. i just want to check it out. (Can you tell we’re developing cabin fever here?)

    What book(s) would I reread, in fact, which ones have I reread at all? WEll, as always, I will mention Wharton. I’ve reread several of hers. Also, oddly, I’ve reread Nora Ephron – CRAZY SALAD and I FEEL BAD ABOUT MY NECK. And Dylan Thomas’ COLLECTION OF POEMS (forgot who is the editor…!) because his poetry revives me, takes me away from writing in a stripped-away modern style. And Dickens, GREAT EXPECTATIONS and NICHOLAS NICKLEBY and Annie Dillard, TEACHING A STONE TO TALK and AN AMERICAN CHILDHOOD. Yes, Annie Dillard. I certainly recommend her books. And Ray Bradbury: not only does he have a wonderful book about writing (ZEN AND THE ART OF WRITING) but his “old” classics like MARTIAN CHRONICLES and DANDELION WINE, while being sci-fi or fantasy if one must label, deal with human-ness. And Fannie Flagg: FRIED GREEN TOMATOES AT THE WHISTLESTOP CAFE. I’ve reread that one, the second time after seeing the movie years later. I don’t care about the movie; it’s Flagg’s southern voice and steeliness and humor and matter-of-factness. ANd Jay McInerney: BRIGHT LIGHTS AND BIG CITY and several more following that. He writes of NYC, which I love but I enjoy rereading his lagnuage (which was of the time at that time) and his rhythm and his characters.
    So those are my re-reads for now. I’m going to make a pot of coffee and look at the shelves and see what, if anything else, pops out for a reread.
    Oh, here’s a “lazy” reread: Peter Mayle. I know, I know, but honestly, his first, TALES OR PROVENCE, takes me back there (I reread it usually in the spring) and just love it and laugh!

  16. Thanks for some delightful sounding new recommendations! I’ve never read any of the Ross MacDonald mysteries, but they were very popular over here at one time. And the Oliphant book would be a real treat! We do get Rumpole here, and I think it’s been made into some tv shows.

    I’ve re-read most of Richard Russo’s books, Wallace Stegner, Julia Glass, Gail Godwin, Susan Howatch’s series about the Anglican priest/mystic, all of the Elizabeth George mysteries, Mary Gordon, Anne Tyler, and probably others. As you can see, I’m a pretty big re-reader -but then I’m older than you so I’ve had more time!

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  18. I’ve been thinking about this because my first instinct was to say “I don’t.” Then I started thinking about John McPhee because of a post at litopia. And I realized, I reread passages, sentences, paragraphs, stanzas. John McPhee is one author I choose regularly. His book The Survival of the Bark Canoe, is an example. His craft, control, structure are all so amazing that rereading his work is like sipping Cointreau with hot dark chocolate. There are a number of non-fiction writers I re-read like this, but there are very few fiction writers I’m afraid. Usually with fiction it is biting wit that brings me back – a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife – for example. Another fiction book I dip back into – L’élégance du hérisson – but perhaps that edges into non-fiction territory because of all the wonderful philosophy. I also love Cynthia Ozick, especially her review essay “Mrs. Virginia Woolf: A Madwoman and Her Nurse.” There are many books I reread for content but for craft McPhee and Ozick are two of my regular crowd.

  19. I tend to reread the books I think of as ‘comfort’ books–Anne Tyler, especially my favorite, Ladder of Years, or early Joanna Trollope, for instance. When my life feels too rushed to “really” read, I reread any Dick Francis or Robert B. Parker I have handy. I reread books for a living, mind you–and of those, the ones that never disappoint are definitely Middlemarch (and any GE, really), Bleak House, Jane Eyre, any Trollope… I’ve liked the Oliphant I’ve read, especially Hester and Miss Marjoribanks, but her Autobiography I think is really remarkable (there’s a very good Broadview edition).

  20. As you know, I posted my own list on my blog. I’m glad to hear Miss Marjoribanks is so good! I just downloaded a copy on to my ereader today. I really enjoyed The Perpetual Curate when I read it recently.

  21. Rebecca – I feel just the same. There have been so many books I’ve loved, and I’d like to reread them all. Up until now there have always been so many new books pressing for my attention too! And I’d love to know what you make of Oliphant.

    JB – lol! Mister Litlove was horrified, it must be said. Aha, I already have two of your choices – the Gaddis and the Miller. I know I haven’t done very well with Gaddis yet, but his time WILL come eventually. And Blaise Cendrars is someone I never think of – I should give him a go.

    Stefanie – lol! She could run amok with such weapons, I feel sure! Nice rereading choices. I noticed the other day that I don’t have a copy of The Robber Bride (although I have read it) and have yet to read Cat’s Eye and The Blind Assassin. I should have an Atwood moment, as I love her.

    Lilian – I tend not to reread because there is so much tempting new stuff to get to. But I feel interested in the possibility for the future. I’m delighted you know Rumpole! He is such fun. And I loved Molly Fox’s Birthday so.

    David – the thought of a Jungian alchemist is irresistible. I’ve long been meaning to read Robertson Davies. I could use a suggestion for where to begin with Hardy – not one of the really tragic ones, something that shows his style without dragging me down. The Woodlanders? A Pair of Blue Eyes? I do actually have some of his novels on my shelves. Murdoch I only read once, but I found her most intriguing. I can quite see that the ideas would bring a reader back over and over again.

    iliana – completely agree. It would be so interesting to read back over a big gap like that. I’ve been rereading Agatha Christie from years ago as I’ve finally forgotten the plots now!

    Pages of Julia – I do believe I have an Upton Sinclair somewhere, although I do confuse him with Sinclair Lewis. I could well imagine myself rereading Wuthering Heights. I agree that you cannot go wrong with a good classic.

    Courtney – flux sounds interesting, as if you might end up with all sorts of beachcombing joys! I really really must read Pat Conroy. You know I’ve been meaning to forever (it seems).

    Deborah – Scott Fitzgerald is a wonderful idea. I haven’t read that much of him, but what I have, I’ve loved. I’d love to read more John Mortimer, too, and I do have one Sue Limb novel, called Enlightenment, a sort of Austen-alike although it’s much better than that and extremely amusing, I recall. I should see what else is still available by her.

    Emily – Anne Fadiman is a very good call, as I have her first book of essays and have actually reread some of them already! I thought you were a Ross Macdonald fan – he is SO fab. And yes, naturally I love your other rereading choices. Who could ever get tired of Dodie Smith? I haven’t ever reread much (except for work), but I sort of feel I could get behind it now.

  22. Jenny – it is a good idea to have a post-nightmare book. I remember, years ago, doing the same with E M Forster’s A Room with a View (it worked admirably well). I would never have thought of having letters to reread, but this is what I love about blogging – the surprises. I will definitely look them out.

    ds – I am so happy to think of Rumpole being well known, and loving the thought of all the mothers out there who bear the delightful moniker of She Who Must Be Obeyed! Lovely choices for rereads, and I must admit I have never read Marquez. I should do something about that this year, definitely.

    Caroline – two authors there who are completely new to me! I shall look them up. Of rereads for French, I have earmarked Louis Aragon’s novel Aurelien – the best love story ever, ever, I think. And in German, Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf, which I read many times in my teens and would love to read again.

    Oh – what fine exports you have there! Delighted to find another Rumpole fan, and the Provincial Lady is in fact one of the few books I have already reread. I’m loving your list of recommended rereads and checking it against my shelves. Funnily enough, I put Nora Ephron on my wish list only the other day, and I have never read Fried Green Tomatoes, although I own a copy. I do get excited at the prospect of books that are favourites with my blogging friends but still new to me. Could anything be nicer?

    Becca – your list is so full of favourite authors of mine that I really must look up the ones I have never read. And you remind me that I do have a Gail Godwin waiting for me! I do think you’d like Ross Macdonald and Miss Marjoriebanks is a winner.

    Jose – thank you for dropping by! I’m sure I’ll call in on you one of these fine days.

    Mary – John McPhee is another new name to me – very exciting. I will look him up. Cynthia Ozick I have read in the past, and certainly admired her technique. You remind me that I wanted to read her essays but then forgot all about them. I will remedy that!

    Rohan – oh I am a sucker for writer’s autobiographies lately and I will have to get hold of Oliphant’s. I, too, love Ladder of Years, although I haven’t read it again because there’s always been other things to read. But it made a big impression on me, many years ago. Love your other choices, too. I will definitely read The Mill on the Floss for my next 19th century choice, and I’m very much looking forward to it.

    Dorothy – if only Oliphant weren’t so hard to get hold of. There are only a few titles by her available on amazon. I’d like to read The Perpetual Curate, and I’m sure Miss Marjoribanks would appeal, when you were in the mood for an uplifting comfort read.

  23. Glad you mention Hesse. He used to be one of my favourite authors and I think I would like to reread him too. I loved Narziss und Goldmund. I always wanted to read Aurélien, thanks for reminding me. I loved Aitmatow’s Djamilia of which Aragon says it is the most beautiful love story. Roumain was part of my aborted Ph.D.

  24. How have you skipped over Dorothy Sayers?! I can re-read Gaudy Night over and over and over … and if you haven’t met Nero Wolfe, the seventh-of-a-ton “detective” created by Rex Stout in the 1930s, you’re missing a treat, too. Seeing Wolfe and his sidekick Archie not-age up through Stout’s death in 1975 is funny — kind of like reading the updated Nancy Drew books — and touching as well.
    I re-read quite a lot of the books I buy [public library?! what’s that?!], often because I’ve read them so quickly the first time that I don’t remember the plot within a week! Herriot, oh YES [it’s time again]; and I have to admit to being a “grown-up” Harry Potter fan.
    You might check http://www.betterworldbooks.com for new and used books that you can’t find elsewhere, and also http://www.abebooks.com [their selection seems to run more towards the rare and really hard to find. I have a 300+-item list of “want-to-reads” and I invariably find what I want at BWB.
    So glad I stumbled across your blog!

  25. This is a great post. I love rereading books that I like so much.

    To answer the question you’ve given us. Here are my answers:
    The Lord Of The Rings by J.R.R Tolkien. I have just finished my 4th time reread last January. Simply said, it is the best fantasy book ever.

    The Lost Word by Michael Crichton, I have reread it 5 times because I love all the theory of extinction he shared in his books. It’s like reading science book in a fun way.

    I don’t think you are up to Manga, but I don’t remember how many times I have reread Onepiece. I have my annual reread event for that series…which means I reread the whole volume of Onepiece every year.

    Ones that I love to reread in the future are Battle Royale by Koushun Takami, The Square Persimmon by Takashi Atoda, Green Mile & Dreamcatcher (and many more) by Stephen King.

    So far, that’s all I can think of. Sorry for making a long comment here🙂

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