Posts Tagged ‘rereading’

Given that I generally prefer fiction to nonfiction, I was somewhat surprised by how many of the books I’d read in the All-Time Best 100 nonfiction books since 1923 — which was when Time  — as in the magazine — began.  http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2088856_2088860,00.html

Naturally, I’d read all the four nonfiction novels, including Capote’s In Cold Blood, although I would have subbed Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff for The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. I also found favorites in autiobiography and memoir, biography, essays, history, social history, science, sport, food writing and war. But, where I wonder, are religion and travel? Ah, see history for Pagels’ The Gnostic Gospels, memoir for Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods.

Mmm.  I’m pretty spotty in culture and politics, weak in ideas and business. I’ve never read Keynes or Chomsky, or Neibhur or Said, or a bunch of others.  And I really doubt these days that I’m ever going to get around to The Nature and Destiny of Man, or What Color is My Parachute?

I read nonfiction for the same reason I read fiction — for entertainment and enlightenment, and for narrative and story. Perusing this list, I note that my favorites in any category are mostly all good stories: All the President’s Men (politics), And the Band Played On (health), The Last Lion (biography), Slouching Towards Bethlehem (essays), Dispatches (war), The Best and the Brightest (history), and so on. Notable exceptions would be Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory, which is marvelously written literary criticism/history, and Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style, which is essential reading, and rereading, for writers.

Rereading is on my mind, because I’m on vacation and I’m immersing myself in old favorites. All novels, so far, although I did recently pick up A Moveable Feast again after reading The Paris Wife.

But there are a couple others, too, I will read again, like John Hersey’s moving Hiroshima and Virginia Woolf’s exhortation to readers, A Room of One’s Own.  I finally made it through William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich several years ago, so I’m not up  for that again. But  I’m not ruling out a rereading of Shelby Foote’s magnificent The Civil War. What a story! Which reminds me. Where is my paperback of Gone With the Wind?

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I’m not ready to close the book on 2010, or any other year for that matter. Perusing others’ year-end best lists, I’m gratified to see many of my own favorites (Tana French’s Faithful Place, Dennis Lehane’s Moonlight Mile, Emma Donoghue’s Room) and that President Obama is reading John le Carre and David Mitchell. But mostly I see all the books I’ve read but still haven’t written about, plus all the ones I want to read, including the lovely stack from Santa and friends.

 Just yesterday I finished Peter Robinson’s Bad Boy, which was very good, and came out six months ago. It’s the 19th in the Inspector Alan Banks series, which is hard to believe. Was In a Dry Season really 10 books back? I’d like to reread it if I can find my copy. I’m always looking for books lost in my own house, and while searching for them, I inevitably turn up others I’d like to reread — or never read in the first place. A constant chorus seems to emanate from the shelves and stacks: Pick me! I’m next! Over here!

I’m on vacation at my mom’s but can’t escape the books begging for attention. In fact, my bed is shoved up against a bookcase on one side, and I fall asleep — and wake up — eye-to-eye with a shelf of Maeve Binchy novels, a couple of Barbara Kingsolvers and some Tony Hillermans. All read and read again, still enticing. I turn my head, and the TBR stack of new volumes threatens to topple off the nightstand.

Susan Hill understands. The prolific British author, best known forThe Woman in Black — although I love her Simon Serrailler crime series — also loses books in her house. It’s why she wrote Howards End is on the Landing: A Year of Reading from Home. Looking for one elusive volume, she turned up a  dozen more she’d forgotten about. So, swearing off new books for the most part and curtailing her use of the internet, she decided to “repossess” her own books. She writes:

“A book which is left on a shelf is a dead thing but it is also a chrysalis, an inanimate object packed with the potential to burst into new life.”

Her books also turn out to be a map of her own life, and her reading journey becomes a memoir. For fellow bibliophiles, the result is as hard to resist as the title — charming, anecdotal, opinionated. The temptation to quote is endless. “No matter what the genre, good writing tells.” And, “Ah here is Muriel Spark, sharp as a pencil, cool, stylish.”

She is talking about Sparks’ novels and stories, but Hill has led a literary life, and her descriptions of her encounters with older, famous writers are just as pointed. Edith Sitwell is haughty and terrifying, but the “small man with thinning hair and a melancholy mustache” who accidentally drops a book on her foot in the London Library offers “a small flurry of exclamations and apology and demur.” As she returns the book, she finds herself looking into the watery eyes of an elderly E.M. Forster. “He seemed slightly stooping and wholly unmemorable and I have remembered everything about him for nearly 50 years.”

She notes that knowing about a writer’s life is rarely necessary to appreciate their works but makes an exception, at least for herself, where Dickens and the Brontes are concerned. As for her own life, she has published books by other authors and found it an enjoyable sideline. She loves the feel and shape of books, the smell of them, the sound of pages being turned. She’ll put money on books — real books, printed and bound — being around as long as there are readers.

When I started this blog almost a year ago, I had the ambitious idea of giving away at least one of my old books for every new one I brought home. I would even chronicle this pruning of my collection in occasional posts, “Going, going, gone.” I think I did this twice before realizing the futility of my donating books or releasing them into the wild in any organized fashion. I always have a give-away box going, but it contains mostly recent acquisitions in which I’ve lost all interest. Rarely can I survey my shelves, stacks, piles, bins, carry-alls, table-tops, etc. and see a book I think I might not want to re-read — or get around to reading for the first time. Just reading Hill’s memoir has reminded me of at least half a hundred of which I already have copies.

So that’s my plan for 2011. Not to stop reading new books; I know my limits — as well as what’s on the horizon that looks wonderful. I’m already counting the months — eight — when the sequel to Lev Grossman’s  The Magicians is supposed to be published. But I am going to make a concerted effort to “repossess” the books I have, to indulge in the companionship of old friends, to acquaint myself with new-to-me volumes. I’ll let you know how it goes, and how often whimsy wins out over the call of the current. As soon as I get home later this week, I’ll probably start with Forster. Howards End is in the white wicker chest beneath the bedroom window. I think.

Open Book: I bought my copy of Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill (Profile Books) when it was published in the U.S. in early November. It moved to the top of my TBR stack about a week ago.

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