It’s a new year, and time for new books. Of course, when ISN’T it time for new books?
But there’s something wonderful about going back to books one has read before. Re-reading a book, especially years after the first read, can be a wonderful experience.
Sometimes, it might be a disappointment. You might have changed your perspective so much that you remember the way you FELT when you read the book, rather than the content of the book itself. But, often, you get more and more out of a book each time you go back.
I have books I consider my “comfort” books. They are books that I go back and re-read regularly. If I don’t get to them once a year, I go back every few years. They are books I enjoy so much that I often have more than one copy of them in the house, and I have most of them on my Kindle as well. This way, I am never without something satisfying to read.
Here are some of the books I keep re-reading:
THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPARE — William Shakespeare
I have adored Shakespeare’s writing since I was eight years old and first read the Scottish play. I keep going back to all his works. Many of my best theatrical experiences were on Shakespeare plays, including TWELFTH NIGHT and most of the history plays. When other teens were obsessed with rock stars, I was in Northumbria, visiting the places that Hotspur Percy lived. I never get tired of reading Shakespeare, and learn something new every time I re-read a play. I also love ASIMOV’S GUIDE TO SHAKESPEARE, written by, yes, THAT Isaac Asimov.
JANE AUSTEN — all of them
I regularly go back and re-read all six books. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and SENSE AND SENSIBILITY remain my favorites, although the others rotate in their place on my list. I always forget how funny she is.
POSSESSION by A.S. Byatt
I read it the day it was first released and it swept me away. I still re-read it once every two or three years, and it still takes my breath away — the breadth of styles included in a single book. The excitement of unraveling the mystery of a newly-found manuscript. I am not a fan of the movie at all, but I continue to adore the book.
HOGFATHER by Terry Pratchett
This is my annual Winter Solstice read. This brilliant satire on belief and non-belief enchants me every time. I’m a big fan of the Discworld books anyway, with MORT, GOING POSTAL, WYRD SISTERS, and MASKERADE as my favorites, but HOGFATHER is the I re-read every year.
LITTLE WOMEN by Louisa May Alcott
I wanted to grow up to be Jo, although I wanted Laurie rather than the German professor. Even with its flaws, I still love this book. It gave me so much pleasure and so much hope when I was little. Louisa is one of my heroines. Of her other books, ROSE IN BLOOM and AN OLD-FASHIONED GIRL are also favorites. I also re-read her journals regularly.
COLLECTED POEMS -by Emily Dickinson
Again, I learn something new every time I read them. I find poetry experiential rather than theoretical. It’s hard for me to talk ABOUT poetry — I’d rather experience it directly.
TRIFLES by Susan Glaspell
I adore this play. Susan Glaspell is a wonderful author; a founding member of the Provincetown Players, and one of Eugene O’Neill’s earliest supporters, she was a fascinating and wonderful novelist in her own right. Again, every time I re-read this book regularly.
AN EXTRAORDINARY YEAR OF ORDINARY DAYS by Susan Wittig Albert
I’m a big fan of her China Bayles series, and I’ve also read most of her Beatrix Potter and Darling Dahlia books. But this, a diary of hers, is a book I go back to at least once a year, for both comfort and inspiration. You see how the details she notices, how the depths of her own feelings she explores, makes her such a wonderful writer.
SECONDHAND SPIRITS by Juliet Blackwell
This is her first Lily Ivory book. While I’m a big fan of the whole series, I keep coming back and re-reading this first book over and over again. It speaks to me, on many levels. I lived in San Francisco in the mid-80s — while modern SF is quite different, there’s still a resonance in the area — and in Lily — that I love.
A BOOK OF THEIR OWN by Thomas Mallon
This is a collection of diaries, throughout history. As a diarist myself, this book resonates on the whys and hows of keeping a journal that is personal and meaningful, and yet becomes bigger than the self. I go back to the extremely (overly) detailed diaries I kept in the 80s and 90s when I write material set in this time. As I age, the excerpts here give me a fresh perspective every time I go back to them.
THE NORTHBURY PAPERS by Joanne Dobson
The entire Karen Pelletier series is terrific, academic, literary mysteries. But this one is, by far, my favorite, where a copy of JANE EYRE leads to an almost-forgotten novelist. I never get tired of this, and I usually wind up re-reading the entire series.
THE DIANA TREGARDE MYSTERIES by Mercedes Lackey
Diana Tregarde was an urban fantasy heroine ahead of her time, back in the day when it was still called “paranormal mystery” (and what it’s about to be thus called again, since agents and publishers claim not to want urban fantasy, even though readers do). Diana Tregarde is one of my favorite protagonists and I love to re-read the series at least once a year. I have three of the re-issued books that came out a few years ago. I thought there were six, but I can only seem to find three. There’s also a wonderful short story in Lackey’s TRIO OF SORCERY, featuring this character. My other favorite Lackey character is Jennifer Talldeer, the Oswego private investigator; most of the stories featuring her are now out of print, too.
The Diana Tregarde books are: CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT, BURNING WATER, JINX HIGH.
THE BAST MYSTERIES by Rosemary Edghill
Again, I re-read the whole series at least once a year. I relate so much to these books. In some ways, it is a snapshot of what my life was like in New York City in the mid=90s, although I wasn’t as brave as Bast, and in theatre rather than a book designer. But a lot of the social interactions/decisions she has to make in the course of the series resonate strongly with me. Some of it reflects my life at the time; some of it reflects what could have happened, had I made some of the same decisions that Bast made. Plus, they’re damn good paranormal mysteries. The books in the series are: SPEAK DAGGERS TO HER, THE BOOK OF MOONS, and BOWL OF NIGHT. As I worked on this article, I discovered that, in 2014, a Kindle edition of Bast short stories and novellas were released as FAILURE OF MOONLIGHT. I have just purchased it, and intend to read it this week. I will let you know!
HEADLONG by Ron MacLean
I first read this as a contest entry, where I was a judge, and fell in love with it, giving it the winning slot. I later booked Ron to speak at the library where I worked, and recommended him to teach at Cape Cod Writers Conference. His short stories are terrific, too — basically everything he writes is wonderful. But I go back to HEADLONG because it is a perfect example of what I call a “social justice mystery”, where the politics are vital, but don’t get in the way of plot, character, and story. He never stands on a soapbox — he involves the reader in the journey, and gives the reader room to make decisions and judgment calls. Beautifully constructed and even more beautifully written, this is a book well work re-reading regularly. This is not a “comfortable” book to read, but it’s a “comfort book” because it’s so damn good I always learn from it when I return to it. it challenges me in the right way.
There are many books I re-read. I’m a big believer in re-reading, and am always suspicious of people who dismiss it (usually using the non-starter “I don’t have time to re-read”). A well-written book has something new to offer each time you visit with it, and comfort books are old friends who remain with you on the journey.
What are some of your favorite books and why? Please feel free to list them in the comments.