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Books worth rereading

Why bother rereading books at all? Isn’t it like, as Pink Floyd put it, merely “running over the same old ground,”(*) avoiding going forward or ignoring new stories?

Nope, not at all! Reading a favorite book again is like eating one’s favorite comfort dish. Something to curl up with and savor. As exciting and satisfying as the wonderful New.

(*)”Wish You Were Here,” by Pink Floyd, from Wish You Were Here (1975). ¡Muchas gracias! to Akkana for inspiring this article while discussing the top unread books.

Abu-Jaber, Diana. The Language of Baklava. A food memoir of growing up with Jordanian and American families. This book made me realize that, yes, there is readable, wonderful non-fiction. Something that’s not a prettily illustrated reference on plants or food or birds! Abu-Jaber’s tone is more than accessible —it’s touching, hilarious and mouthwatering (recipes included). Her indomitable Aunt Aya has one of the best lines: “Ask yourself, Do I want a baby or do I want to make a cake? The answer will come to you like bells ringing… For me, almost always, the answer was cake.”

Adams, Richard. Watership Down. This was the first “adult sized” novel I remember reading as a child. How could I resist reading about animals, rabbits, as the characters? About their lives and their own stories? Literary personification, so often harmless or anemic elsewhere, is at its best here.

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Take two people, both highly intelligent, but also rather obnoxious. Modern versions make them look repulsive or silly. Take these two people, and show how they make mistakes, yet how they can learn, love, have compassion. Modern versions fail again, and make the story full of atrocious hysteria and schmaltz. (You can tell how much I hated the movie Bridget Jones’s Diary.) This 18th century novel epitomizes the gothic romance satire; accept no substitutes.

Griffith, Nicola. Slow River. Not your typical poor little rich girl story. (Is there ever one? Hm, I guess in some fairy tales. This ain’t one of ’em.) An intricate history of broken people, broken relationships, and how they grow (or become stunted), within a near-future world of cool high tech and fascinating biotechnology.

Jones, Diana Wynne. Howl’s Moving Castle. Now this is a fairy tale stood on its head. How often do you read about the quest of a young woman, Sophie, who suddenly becomes an elderly lady? Hayao Miyazaki made a beautiful movie based on this book, but he omitted one of Jones’s critical themes, that Sophie must go out into the world herself, to truly comprehend herself and her abilities.

Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. This is one of the Great American Novels. It’s a perfect (i.e., balanced) innocence-to-wisdom narrative, without an utter loss of delight. It has rightfully become the touchstone for most small town, Great Depression era stories.

McIntyre, Vonda. Dreamsnake. A far future story of an itinerant healer with unusual and innovative medical techniques. It was revelation to watch this world unfold, revealing a refreshing attitude towards a more fluid (if not more enlightened) sexuality.

Murakami, Haruki. Wind-up Bird Chronicle. I don’t know if it was Murakami’s intention, but his protagonist embodied Generation X so accurately for me. Then placed that person in a magical realist, yet urban adventure-mystery involving eccentric women and a missing cat. The resulting story continues to both haunt and thrill me.

Pullman, Philip. His Dark Materials trilogy, consisting of The Golden Compass (a.k.a., Northern Lights in the UK), The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. I think it’s because I read C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books as a cynical teenager that I never quite appreciated or marveled at the series. It was interestingly fantastic at times, of course, but I couldn’t shake the apologist motifs, which ultimately disappointed me. By contrast, Pullman’s books didn’t use a simplistic good versus evil theme. He took the controversial path to pair organized religion (i.e., an oppressive theocracy) with self determination. The series is undoubtedly a breathtaking epic with —yes, again!— talking animals. I also relished learning about its universe over the course of three books: What is Dust? What are daemons? Why does it matter?

Wrede, Patricia. Dealing with Dragons. This was the first unconventional fairy tale I’ve read —more modern and more amusing than most liberal revisionist or satirical tales. The proper ingredients include a princess, a dragon and a witch; the proper method includes magic, wackiness and eccentricity. Not to mention a dash of Latin, botany and kitchen navigation. 😉

There are a couple obvious themes: Deftly written character development, especially involving self-discovery or self-realization. And how I unabashedly enjoy a good fantasy.

What are some your favorite books to read over again?


  1. Sarah wrote:

    Wow–so many of these are my favorite re-reads, too.

    Diana Wynne Jones is my go-to author when I feel lousy and need a comforting re-read. Fire and Hemlock is my favorite, but Howl is right up there.

    Thanks for the Abu-Jaber rec; I’ll check it out. (Ironically, it was the baklava thread on Simply Recipes that led me here.)

    Thursday, 21 February 2008 at 10:59 am | Permalink
  2. sairuh wrote:

    Hi Sarah, I haven’t read Fire and Hemlock —Jones has indeed written so many books to choose from! Another one of hers I’ve enjoyed is Dark Lord of Derkholm.

    Another good food memoir is M.F.K. Fisher’s The Gastronomical Me. I empathize more with Abu-Jaber’s memoir, but it’s still a worthwhile read.

    Friday, 22 February 2008 at 11:10 am | Permalink

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