Last week, I came across an article that suggested that reading a book for a second time can offer mental health benefits. My first thought was, "Oh, this is great! I'm not crazy!" I said this because I've re-read certain books more than once a year--some since I was a child.(And with any luck I've benefited mentally in the process...)
This got me thinking about why I read certain books again and again, and the impact that some of those books have had on me. Some offer the comfort--and delicious anticipation--of a well-trodden path (Pride and Prejudice, Anne of Green Gables, Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles, and now, Harry Potter). Others offer the dream of a different world (The Time Quintent by Madeleine L'Engle, and now, The Hunger Games), or tugged at something in my being-- (For example, I can see now that Little Women and The Little House books directly contributed to my desire to be a teacher).
Reflecting now, however, I think the book that may have had the biggest impact on me as a historian--and as a writer--was The Witch of Blackbird Pond (1958), by Elizabeth George Speare. Set in late seventeenth-century New England, this Newberry winner tells the story of Kit, a hoity-toity miss from Barbadoes, who accidentally defies convention, ruffles the Puritan community, and comes to be accused--and tried--as a witch. Richly drawn characters, simple but elegant writing, and a delicately plotted narrative make this book, for me, a model for powerful storytelling.
Even more importantly, sitting down with this book--even as an adult-- makes me feel like I am sitting down with a friend.
I'm curious--what books comfort and inspire you? Are there books that you seek out, to re-read and enjoy again? What makes you want to read a book again? (I'll read your comments when I finish re-reading my book...)
2/28/2012 02:32:35 pm
I have returned time and again to Through the Looking-Glass; The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; lately to Pride & Prejudice. I used to read Franny & Zooey and Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenter every year but then felt that doing so was making me sick in the head. They were just too intense. So JD Salinger was a youthful fancy that I shook off, but I still read e.e. cummings with delight all the time. This is a bit off topic, but once after a accidentally long period of silence I called my friend Nick and recounted how I still knew his phone number by heart and that the phone numbers of people you're really close to are often not in your address book (this is last century technology, I realize) because you just always KNOW them .... and he said books were the same: you never have your favorite books on the shelf because you've either lent them out or are currently reading them. It's so true! P&P is next to the bed right now, and I loaned out Looking-Glass and The Lion &c. I read a fantastic quote from Patrick O'Brian, who said there were six novels worth reading, and that he read them every year. I think we know which six he was talking about! :)
Cory, I can't fit all my favorites next to my bed, but I have a special bookcase just for the books I love. I have to admit, though, I really don't buy books that I won't read again. There are a few series that I absolutely loved but I will probably not read them again (such as Patricia Cornwell mysteries)--maybe you have to fall in love with them as children. Are the six novels from Patrick O'Brian his own? That's funny!!
3/2/2012 04:50:24 am
No, the Six Novels are Jane Austen!
2/28/2012 10:34:22 pm
I reread books. I want to let it settle, but I can't wait to reread "A Visit from the Goon Squad". I imagine that "The Manual of Detection" will feel much different with a reread.
2/28/2012 10:47:37 pm
I actually just reread To Kill a Mocking Bird and saw it through a whole new light now that I am an adult. I first read it when I was a freshman in HS and I was amazed at how different my perspective was on it now that I'm a parent. I sympathized with Atticus much more than I did as a child. I think this realization has inspired me to revisit some other of my old favorites. Great blog post!
Danica, To Kill a Mockingbird is a really amazing book. And to think Harper Lee only wrote one book! I just saw a documentary about her the other day which hinted that she might have some other manuscripts in a vault somewhere. Can you imagine? And yes, I have completely rethought the role of the parents in kids' books now too...
2/29/2012 01:21:27 am
Interesting...I never read a story over, ever. Sort of like a TSA checkpoint...keep the line moving forward, a lot of places to travel to and see. I feel there are too many great stories waiting to be read and not enough time to do it in. If I do a redo, that is one less new story I get to experience...I pay very close attention the first time...but the mental health benefits are intriguing...may lower my healthcare deductible...
I've read "The Fountainhead" twice a year since i discovered almost two decades ago. It inspires me due to the cold purity of the ideas (with which I agree) and finding nuance where Ms. Rand tested those ideas. In tomes of that girth there is always more detail to discover. Any book with detail and creativity has the same effect. I refuse to tell you how many times I've read Frank Herbert's Dune series - all of it. And while I've yet to do it in a linear fashion the Bible is something I still return to on a regular basis (The New King James being my preferred translation).
Joel, I'm so impressed that you re-read The Fountainhead so frequently. I read it when it was in college, but not for a class. I remember the first line was something like "Harold Roark laughed and jumped..." (is that right. Jumped off a cliff maybe?). I also remember feeling disappointed in the romance! So clearly I didn't understand "the cold purity of ideas" but I love the fact that it resonated with you!. Like I said above, I really need to read some of these books--especially Genesis. Three times in the course of a week! I did that recently with the Hunger Games trilogy. I read them all twice in a row, they were THAT good!
2/29/2012 09:59:31 pm
I've got to agree a bit with Jaynes. I rarely have read a book twice. That's not to say that I haven't repeatledly thought about particular books over the years. That said, there is this one book due out in the Fall that I've read (and loved) multiple times!
3/1/2012 02:09:26 am
I rarely reread books, mostly because I'm always looking for something new. Still, of the books that I've consciously returned to, Jane Eyre and To Kill a Mockingbird were two I enjoyed even more the second time around. I think this has a lot to do with how immature I was on the first read; I probably understood the book's quality a great deal more on the second. There are other books that I've re-read because I wanted to re-experience the way I felt when I read them the first time. For the longest time I held The Robber Bride and White Noise up as the two greatest books I'd ever read. This had more to do with the fantasy world these books created for me and how I felt in them than any sort of admiration for character or narrative. Regrettably, I could not recover the experience and the books sort of fell flat as a result. Again, I attribute this let-down to my maturity when I first read these books (in college). Both books have characters who are academics, and now that I've lived as one for a few years, I'm not as excited by the characters. Consequently, I'm a little worried that I might damage my memory of how great a book is if I reread it.
Debbie, I completely understand. I have also had that rather sad experience of re-reading books I adored when I was a kid, only to find them far less magical as an adult. Sadly, books that falls into that category for me now are "The Secret Garden" and "The Five Little Peppers," mainly because I'm attuned to the racist overtones now. I understand about trying to find new books--I'm seeking the feeling of falling in love with a book or series. If I re-read a book its usually in the middle of the night when I can't sleep--that's why its like hanging out with friends for me!
3/1/2012 09:30:36 pm
I don't tend to reread entire books, but sometimes particular passages of them. For example, The Trumpets of Tagan, by Simon Lang (an alias of Darlene Hartmann) contains a few conversations between the two main characters, and a dinner-time tale that I will read when I need to have a perspective check. This is an out-of-print book, and probably not in most libraries (too bad, because it is part of a well-written series).
3/2/2012 09:04:24 pm
Nope--I have them. I could lend them to you. But I have to point out, scifi has changed a little since 1970 when the first book in the series was written.
3/1/2012 09:34:09 pm
There are very few books that I have re-read. Not because I didn't enjoy them, but simply due to lack of time due to working full-time and being a parent. So many books, so little time! It wasn't until the last few years that I could pleasure read again. Now I'm reading books that my kids are reading so we can have our own little book club. However, when I was a teenager I read Gone with the Wind three times and saw the movie countless times. (The book is much better, but they got the characters right in the movie.) I was fascinated by the strong female characters and how they protrayed feminity during adversity. Everytime I read it I got something new out of it.
And what's amazing is that GWTW is the only book that Margaret Mitchell wrote. Did you ever read the sequel "Scarlett?" Definitely did not keep up with the original! I like reading the same books as kids too. Maybe your kids would like The Witch of Blackbird Pond!
10/23/2012 10:02:39 am
Where can I find out when this was posted?
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Historian. Mystery writer. Researcher. Teacher. Occasional blogger.