Too Many Books, Too Little Time – Why I Re-Read

I’ve worked in a bookstore for nearly seven years now.  Inevitably, someone I’ll get into a discussion with someone about books and I’ll mention books that I re-read every year.  Also inevitably, I’ll have a customer who claims never to re-read anything.

I personally don’t understand why not.

I love the comfort of a novel I’ve enjoyed previously.  There’s few things I enjoy more than becoming reacquainted with characters, plots, and prose that I’ve already read.  This goes back years to when I was but a young reader of seven, or eight…

The first book I remember reading multiple times was the sixth the Boxcar Children series The Blue Bay Mystery.  The descriptions of the white, sandy beaches and the clear, blue ocean completely enveloped me.  I wanted to be stranded on a desert island just like that!

The next two books I read endlessly were horror novels: Wait Til Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn and John Bellairs’ The House With A Clock In Its Walls. I talk about John Bellairs a lot.  Too much probably.  But his novels were a central, formative part of my youth.

Both novels had the horror elements that I really enjoyed at that age, but they also had main characters that were geeky and relatable.  In fact, this penchant for awkward, nerdy, uncomfortable characters has continued.

I think this explains my love of John Green books.  And Richard Mayhew in Neverwhere.  Not to mention the vast number of loners, dreamers, madmen, and maniacs that I’ve come to love in my reading life.

I’ve given a lot of thought and I think I’ve come up with the books I’ve re-read most (what? A top-whatever list?! Lucky you!).  In no particular order (but numbered anyway):

5. Sole Survivor by Dean Koontz

In middle school, I discovered Dean Koontz in a box of books given to my mom.  I read Lightning two or three times that summer.  I spent the next couple of years collecting as many of his books as I could dig out of used book stores.

But Sole Survivor was the one I read most.  The opening chapters where Joe attempts to cope with losing his family in a plane crash broke my heart no matter how many times I read it.

I tried re-reading it again recently and it wasn’t the same.  So I’m going to just leave it in my memory as an enjoyable experience.

4. The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over The Hills by Charles Bukowski

This collection has long been a favorite of mine… mostly because of the poem “For Jane: With All The Love I Had Which Was Not Enough” (though there are more in the collection I particularly enjoy).

There’s other collections that I like more (Love Is A Dog From Hell and Burning in Water, Drowning In Flame), but The Days… is still the one I revisit most often.

3. Sandman by Neil Gaiman

Yeah this is a no-brainer.  Especially given my last post.  I read the series just a few years ago, but I’ve returned to it often.  Sometimes all at once, sometimes in pieces… But I re-read the series at least once a year and always find it comforting and touching.

2. The Waste-Land and Other Poems by T.S. Eliot

Yup, poetry nerd.  If there’s a more perfect poem than “The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock” written in the English language… I don’t know of it.  You can have your Red Wheelbarrows and your Sonnet 18s.  Prufrock nails it.

Do I dare disturb the universe?

1. Ask The Dust by John Fante

John Fante’s novel about struggling writer Arturo Bandini spoke to me as soon as I cleared the first chapter.  Hell, it spoke to me even before the first chapter.  Charles Bukowski’s introduction told me all I needed to know about the book.  And I didn’t even know Bukowski when I first read he novel.

The story is fairly basic and straightforward… but the writing!  Fante writes like a punch to the gut.  Each page, each paragraph has something eminently quotable.  One version I have has highlights on highlights and underlines below highlights.

Heck, I’ve read pretty much every edition of this book.  At least, all the American editions.  Stackpole & Sons from 1939.  Bantam mass market from the 50s.  Black Sparrow (hardcover and soft back) from the 80s, and the Harper Collins reprint from the 00s.  I don’t own all versions of it, but I’m pretty close… anyone wanna lend me $7000 for a copy of the Stackpole edition?

I definitely recommend re-reading texts you enjoy.  Should you re-read everything?  Hell no! I’ll never re-read Midnight’s Children, or The Instructions, though I really enjoyed both of them.  I may never re-read House of Leaves again… though that’s as much for my sanity as anything.

Do you have any favorites you re-visit periodically? Or maybe even yearly?

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