The other day, I picked up Dracula again and dug in. This is partly because I’m considering it for an upcoming project and partly because it’s just fun to read. I love feeling the tension ratchet in the first chapter as everyone knows what’s going on except our narrator, Jonathan Harker. It’s fun, too, to get reacquainted with Harker’s priggishness: “It seems to me that the further east you go the more unpunctual are the trains. What ought they to be in China?”
So British. So Victorian. So hilarious.
It occurred to me that I tend to reread Dracula every few years. Same with Frankenstein. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Sometimes Henry David Thoreau’s Walden or Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis.
Which got me thinking about the act of rereading. It’s a particular thing in itself. You do it less for suspense than for rediscovery. Or sometimes for comfort. There’s something, at this point, about reading the lines “When I wrote the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor, in a house which I had built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, and earned my living by the labor of my hands only” that is oddly soothing. You anticipate the stillness and the solitude; it’s there the moment you begin reading the book. Conversely, rereading is often about seeing things you may not have before. Connecting with themes or ideas that you didn’t earlier in life.
E.g. Like many, the first time I read The Catcher in the Rye, I wanted to throttle Holden Caulfield. But reading it later, after college, I felt much more sympathetic–for whatever reason.
I don’t deliberately reread on a schedule like some. It’s like picking up any other book for me and thinking: ah, yes, this is the book for right now. I’ve mostly overcome the twinge of guilt I get when I go to reread–there are so many unread or half-read books in my house–but I still try not to do it too, too often.
But I’ve been thinking lately that there are books I might like to reread every year, either because they are magnificent or because they relate to my chosen expertise or because they are like old friends. Naturally, such a list would have be reined in or I would never read anything new. Some possibilities (in no particular order):
- The Iliad
- To the Lighthouse (or all the Woolf always)
- Flannery O’Connor’s The Complete Short Stories
- The Decameron
- The Divine Comedy
- Absalom, Absalom!
Do you reread any books annually? If you don’t, what would they be?