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The Question of Rereading Old Favorites

There are so many books in the world, it would be impossible for one person to be able to read them all. And yet, here I am, trying. My mind also lingers on the books I’ve already read. There are times that I put a book down after finishing and in my head, decide how I feel about it. Perhaps even continue to process it while writing a review. And then months later, I realize I’m still thinking about it—usually in a way that makes me admire it even more than I initially did. I swear, Freshwater still hasn’t let go of me and I read it nearly a year ago. On the other end, there are books that I finished and thought it was one of the best novels of all time, and then, years later, I can’t even remember what it was about and why I liked it so much. Maybe I even called it one of my favorite books, but would it still be, if I read it today?

I recently finished reading National Book Award Winner The Friend by Sigrid Nunez. She philosophizes a lot about many topics in the book, but this particular passage called out to me:

Consider rereading, how risky it is, especially when the book is one that you loved. Always the chance that it won’t hold up, that you might, for whatever reason, not love it as much. When this happens, and to me it happens all the time (and more and more as I get older), the effect is so disheartening that I now open old favorites warily.
The prose style is just as fine, the wit as sharp, the story, if anything, even ore compelling that I remembered. But something has changed. The second time, I don’t find the author as likable. I find him even somewhat dislikable. His hostility toward women—had I missed that, or just forgotten it?

Below are the books that I hope to reread at some point soon. Some because I fear they used to be a favorite, but I’m a different person now, and some because I still believe in the magic they showed me once.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

This is the book that may perhaps prove that I find my opinion on the author has changed. I read this about a decade ago and immediately loved it. I remember it being a love story filled with loneliness. But, since reading it, I’ve read a lot of other works by Murakami and realized that perhaps writing women—their intentions, their bodies—is not his forte. I was in for the ride of 1Q84 and abhorred the ending, and felt odd about a lot of scenes. I nearly threw Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage across the room when it revealed the answer to the mystery. And my book club of women felt similarly on that one. So, will Norwegian Wood stand the test or be banished from my favorites?

Buy it here


First Love by Ivan Turgenev

I read this short, little classic years ago and I love holding the small thing after picking it off my shelf. Earlier this year I read Alexander Chee’s The Queen of the Night, in which the main character has an encounter with Turgenev and his domestic life, which was quite fascinating. Knowing just this little sliver about him, made me want to turn to this book about teenage love again.

Buy it here


Just Kids by Patti Smith

My favorite memoir of all time. Will it still be? I’m certain the answer will be yes. Smith writes so eloquently about youth and art and music and learning. And New York—by god, there’s a lot of great writing about New York, but she gets it perfect. She’s an observer that can also transmit emotion seamlessly, and I want to reread this to be taken away by the magic of her words again.

Buy it here


Evening by Susan Minot

We read this book for a women and literature class in college, so I haven’t read it in over a decade. I remember being swept away by the story of a family mystery told in flashbacks and there was a central intrigue that was written in such a way that seemed effortless but was remarkably difficult to even figure out how Minot pulled it off. The thing is, I can’t quite remember the mechanism, but I know it’s good, and I want to dive in now, with the book kind of hazy in my mind, and be wowed again.

Buy it here


Play it as it Lays by Joan Didion

This will always be on my reread list. I think it’s my most reread book on my shelves. It’s something I read ages ago, but then turned to again and again because I seem to gain some further insight after each read that wasn’t there before. Didion’s sparse and economical prose is razor-sharp here; she telegraphs whole complicated moods in a word, in a period mark. Last year for my birthday, my best friend gave me the last page of Play It as It Lays framed. It’s beautiful, much like Didion’s writing.

Buy it here


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