It’s not often that I read books a second time for the plain fact that there are so many new ones I want to get to. Sometimes I will recall a particular scene that I found powerful in a book which I’ll flip back to or I might read a particular favourite short story from a collection I read ages ago. But, in general, I’m too greedy to turn back to something I’ve already experienced even though I know I’ll find new meanings when reading a good book again. However, there are some titles I’ve revisited multiple times. In their own ways I find them endlessly rewarding as I get something new from them each time.
The Waves by Virginia Woolf
This is by far the book I’ve read the most times in my life. The entire movement of life from childhood to old age perfectly encapsulated in six distinct “voices” speaking out of some subterranean region of consciousness. As I grow older I connect in different ways with the characters at different ages. There is stunning poetry in the prose so it can be enjoyed for its sheet beauty. Or you can reread passages for their depth of thought. It’s the most artful novel I’ve ever read.
The Journals of Joyce Carol Oates: 1973-1982
More than any other book here, I can flip to any entry in these journals to become immediately immersed in reading about Oates’ thoughts on literature or her philosophical meditations on the state of being. Unlike her beautifully crafted fiction, the thoughts in this book come so directly that their honesty speaks directly to me. Whether luxuriating in her touching descriptions of the natural world or enjoying her thoughts on what she’s reading or other authors she encounters, these journals are a joy to read. Since this only covers a ten year period of her life, I can only hope that Oates and her biographer Greg Johnson will one day return to this project to publish more of her journals.
In America by Susan Sontag
When Sontag finished the prologue of this novel she felt she’d created the perfect post-modern story. So she has. It’s a brilliant way to enter into the story of her Polish actress Maryna who travels to America in order to found a utopian community. Something about this novel chimes with me so that I find her search for authenticity and her failure to find it so touching and personal. Sontag was such a precise and rigorous intellectual and I’m endlessly entranced by the portrait she created in this novel.
Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler
Much like my thoughts about Rachel Joyce’s novels recently, this book touches upon the dilemma of imagining parallel lives for yourself. In this instance, without even knowing why exactly, a woman named Delia walks out on her family to start from scratch and test out a new one. How many of us haven’t dreamed of doing this? Delia’s radical claim on a meditative space where she can discover what’s most important to her in life turns into a zone where I can meditate on my own life choices and what I really value (without the danger of abandoning everything and everyone around me completely.)
SantaLand Diaries by David Sedaris
This is pure pleasure and something of a Christmas tradition in my relationship. We make ourselves cups of hot chocolate, lie on blankets in front of the fire with the Christmas tree in the background and read these hilarious stories aloud to each other. Sedaris’ humour is so well paced and tinged with a slant of darkness that makes these stories endlessly surprising.