Books I'm Afraid to Re-Read
Some of my favorite books of all time are ones I read in late or extended adolescence (I prolonged it as long as I could). It's a period when we seem to be at the height of receptivity for anything romantic -- or maybe it's that we define everything as romantic. Others are circumstantial favorites -- that is, ones for which my emotional attachment to the book came from the reading experience itself -- in one case, for example, curled up with a boyfriend on the sort of couch that only exists in student housing, reading aloud to each other irresistible and meaningful passages.
Certain favorites are likely to remain on my all-time best list because I'm reluctant to re-read them. Who knows what I'm afraid of? That they won't stand the test of time? That a second reading might pierce those magic moments of my romantic youth? That I'll wonder why I liked them in the first place? That I'll look at the books with a jaded, older sensibility? That they'll remind me of a person I no longer am? Am I revealing too much here?
Maybe it's folly even to talk about re-reading when many of us don't have time to read in the first place, but these are among the titles I'm afraid to re-visit:
1. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte. In 8th grade I wrote a book report on a joint biography of the Bronte sisters (Charlotte, Emily and Anne) and immediately developed a crush on the whole family (especially brother Branwell, naturally exotic, whom I once thought to name my first-born son after). I loved the moors from which they came, the wildness of the place where they lived (nothing -- and no one -- was wild in Ohio), the places they created in their fiction (Gateshead Hall, Lowood School, Thornfield Manor), and the oh-so-alive characters in their books. But it was Wuthering Heights that set me on the search for my own Heathcliff. Reason enough not to re-read it?
2. Look Homeward, Angel and 3. You Can't Go Home Again, by Thomas Wolfe. Thomas Wolfe was a mythic man to me - a kind of real but no-longer-living Paul Bunyan, whose stride across the pages kept me running alongside, all the way to the end of these two long books. I loved the language, the descriptive torrents, the breathless style, the backward glances at growing up. I was pulled in from the beginning by the titles alone.
4. Sometimes a Great Notion, by Ken Kesey. I read this in the late '60s (it was published in 1964) after I'd followed some of the adventures of Jack Kerouac on his road and Kesey and his Merry Pranksters on theirs. Here was a world far from my own, which is exactly what I liked. The spunky Stamper family had all the drama that mine lacked. "Never give an inch," patriarch Henry Stamper's motto, became my watchword for a while. I can still picture the roiling river, the spirited rants and rages, the Oregon coast. Kesey once said, "I think 'Sometimes a Great Notion' is the best thing I'll ever write." I agree.
5. Waterland, by Graham Swift. Probably enough of a reason not to re-read this one is that I read it over several days of unending rain while sitting by my father's hospital bed when he was dying. And the book's meditations on mysteries, on history, on the movement of time, on stories spoke to me profoundly. Perhaps I don't want to re-read this one because I don't want to risk losing the lessons I took away.
What books are you afraid to re-read?
-- Evelyn Small
By Christian Pelusi |
February 21, 2008; 11:15 AM ET
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