Regular readers of this column know that I have a pretty desperate problem with inventory management when it comes to books. Right now I have enough unread novels on my shelves to last me at least a couple of years and yet still I continue to buy more. Thousands of new books are published every week, many of them excellent. In other words, there is always something new to read. Despite this abundance of undiscovered riches, sometimes I find myself returning to familiar favorites instead.
I reread The Great Gatsby every year. It’s my favorite novel ever. There’s a special satisfaction in returning to books we love; every time I crack open the spine of my weathered and much-loved paperback of Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, it’s like sitting down with an old friend and catching up.
The act of rereading is very different to reading for the first time. It is a more leisurely affair. I don’t need to race to the end because I already know what is to come. Now, the journey is the thing, not the destination. The pull of plot recedes and character and writing take center stage. And because I know where I’m going, I can enjoy the view a little more. Consequently, with each read I always discover things that I’d never noticed previously – a delicious turn of phrase I’d skipped over or a clever detail that eluded me before. This process of uncovering new treasures is a joy in and of itself.
However, revisiting beloved novels is not without its perils. It’s not uncommon for me to adore a particular book only to be disappointed when I go back to it again. There are several books that with hindsight I wish I had left on the shelf because they were not quite as wonderful as I remembered. When that happens, I’m left with a bitter taste in my mouth. I would have preferred my fond memories untarnished. From my entirely unscientific survey, I’ve concluded – perhaps unsurprisingly – that the older a book, the more likely it will withstand multiple rereadings. Jane Austen never loses her wit, Dickens still tells the best stories and Fitzgerald’s prose is still as delightfully crisp as a glass of Gatsby’s vintage champagne. Such familiar pleasures are a refreshing palate cleanser amidst my usual diet of new releases.
So what about you? Are there books you revisit regularly?
This is the first novel by American Book Award winner Shann Ray, and it’s stunning. Set in the forbidding wildlands of Montana and spanning over sixty years across the beginning of the 20th century, American Copper tells a story both breathtakingly intimate and vast in scope. Addressing the infinite complexities of race, class, gender and cultural imperialism, it brings the American West vividly to life. Beautiful, lyrical, tough and heartbreaking, you’ll remember this book long after you’ve turned the last page. (Shann Ray will be appearing in Columbia at the Unbound Book Festival in April.)