It is the best of things, it is the worst of things . . . with apologies to Dickens, I'm talking about re-reading favorite books. It can be the best when it's like seeing an old friend and the conversation picks up as if you spoke yesterday. But, it can also be the worst because a book once loved may now disappoint, leaving you to skim and skip your way to the end. For some reason, I found myself in a re-reading mood this summer. I usually read one Jane Austen novel again during the summer and perhaps one other fiction favorite, but this summer I read nothing new. I'm sure that says something about me, but perhaps I'd rather not know what . . .
As a child, I liked to re-read books and my mother and grandmother were always trying to point out other options at the library. My grandmother especially tried to lure me to Black Beauty or Robinson Crusoe, but they were no match for biographies of George Washington and Florence Nightingale or the adventures of the titian-haired girl sleuth, Nancy Drew. But, the book I read most often was An Illustrated Guide to Ghosts & Mysterious Occurrences in The Old North State. I can't begin to guess how many times I checked it out - I never got tired of the eerie black and white photos of Lydia the ghost girl who haunts lonely roadsides trying to get home or Dromgoogle Castle with its blood-stained rock or the ghost organ that plays strange tunes in an empty church. A few years ago I saw a copy of this book in a local antique store and purchased it. This was a case of an old favorite that now disappoints - as I'm sure anyone else would have guessed. The stories and photos no longer thrill, but it was fun to see the book one more time - and now I'm ready to let it go. Perhaps eBay?
But this summer I was happy to re-read lots of fiction, from Jane Austen to Agatha Christie to Tolstoy and David McCullough. Some books, like Vanity Fair and Tess of the d'Urbervilles I hadn't read since college and remembered only the bare outlines. Others, like Beverley Nichols' Merry Hill trilogy were very familiar, yet still made me laugh out loud as Our Rose and Miss Mint nosed their way into Nichols' garden and life. Now summer's over and I'm ready to make some new friends and am moving on to new books - first up is The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. I'll let you know if it's a keeper.
What are your favorite books to read again and again?
"If you truly love a book, you should sleep with it, write in it, read aloud from it, and fill its pages with muffin crumbs." — Anne Fadiman