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Essential Reading
Essential Reading: Books to Read Again (and Again)



When I find a book that delights me, I tend to push it on all my friends with evangelistic zeal. C. S. Lewis's Till We Have Faces, for instance, was such a revelation to me my senior year of high school that I not only read it again myself, but also circulated it among my dorm neighbors my freshman year of college. The downside of lending out a beloved book, of course, is that a person then finds herself jealous of those who are reading it-- which explains why there are two copies of that one on my bookshelf. The books I revisit these days often remind me of particular people with whom I've shared them, or particular stages of my own life that I want to recall. Now that I'm reading favorites from my childhood to my children, I can look forward to rereading those again later, next time with maternal memories woven into the experience. There's a special satisfaction in knowing that I am making new literary memories for my children in which I can share.

“Senior Mama” Columnist Bonnie Pike has been making just such memories herself: “We have several family favorites we continue to read aloud nightly.  The Laura Ingalls Wilder series appeals to so many different age levels, offering both fascinating period detail and exciting tales well told. The food descriptions are especially appealing, so the connection to both the author and her stories continues by day as the kids request one taste treat or another from the stories. The addition to our library of The Little House Cookbook, featuring old-timey recipes based on Wilder's many food descriptions, has brought our family the tangible, tastable richness of pickled green tomatoes after an early frost, buckwheat pancakes drenched in buttery brown sugar, and ginger water for those desert-summer days, to name a few. No matter how many times we've read our way through the whole cycle, Ma Ingalls never fails to inspire. Currently, though, we're trekking Middle Earth with Tolkein's The Hobbit. Bilbo and his companions have just left Rivendell for the perils of the Misty Mountains. At lunch, my son Tony pauses between bites and, apropos of nothing, favors us with one of his rare pronouncements: 'I wonder how Bilbo's getting along. They should never have left Rivendell,' he says. 'They're gonna have trouble!' Which is, of course, exactly what draws us back to these delicious read-aloud classics, again and again. Pajama-clad, cocoa cup in hand, we gather nightly for the next chapter of unfolding adventures that are always worth yet another hearing.”

Editor-in-Chief Caroline Grant is also drawn into rereading by her children's enthusiasm: “I usually have too many new books piled up on my nightstand to spend time rereading, but we are having a Harry Potter moment in my household, led by my seven-year-old, who discovered J. K. Rowling's series just before Christmas. He's now in the fifth book; my ten year old -- who had stopped, a couple years ago, midway through the third book -- is also reading the series; and I'm midway through the second, trying to catch up to them. We have spent some cozy winter afternoons cuddled up on the couch together with our books, and I'm remembering how much fun it is to disappear into Rowling's world of wizards and witches.”

For Kristina Riggle, Fiction Co-Editor, revisiting poetry is about revisiting beauty and reviewing one's place in the world: “Ballistics by Billy Collins is a poetry collection I can't help but dip into again and again. It was a Christmas present from my husband (so that right there makes it special). Several of the poems are about death, yet they are such a pleasure to read. In this collection, Collins exults in the life we have, ever more important because of the death that must come, someday, for all of us.”

Finally, “Four Worlds” Columnist Avery Fischer Udagawa recommends the perfect metatextual icing for this particular cake: “Rereadings, edited by Anne Fadiman, offers reflections by seventeen literary luminaries on the act of rereading, in adulthood, a text treasured before the age of twenty-five. The volume's contributors include Vivian Gornick, Patricia Hampl, Pico Iyer, and Phillip Lopate; the re-read texts include Pride and Prejudice, Lord Jim, "Song of Myself," Beatles lyrics, and a series of juvenile nursing novels. Both personal and diverse, the essays capture something quintessential from the experiences of readers (and rereaders) reading to enjoy. The book is a wonderful companion to Fadiman's bestseller Ex Libris.”

 



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