Readers, I’ve found that a good book not only holds up to repeated visits, but improves each time we return to it—which is why we included “a re-read” in our 2020 Reading Challenge. Despite the welcome thrill of opening a brand new book, I’m a fond and frequent rereader. I turn to my favorite books again and again when I’m stuck in a reading slump, when I need a dose of comfort, or when I’m in the mood to deconstruct a story to figure out how the author put it together.
I wrote an entire ode to rereading in my book I’d Rather Be Reading, a collection of essays on the delights and dilemmas of reading life. Here’s an excerpt:
When I find myself in a dreaded reading slump, nothing boosts me out of it faster than revisiting an old favorite. Old books, like old friends, are good for the soul. But they’re not just comfort reads. No, a good book is exciting to return to, because even though I’ve been there before, the landscape is always changing. I notice something new each time I read a great book. As Italo Calvino wrote, “A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.” Great books keep surprising me with new things.
To inspire your own rereading selections for this year’s Reading Challenge, I’m sharing ten of my favorite books to read again and again—books that continue to surprise me, delight me with each visit, or teach me something new about the craft of writing every single time.
The first time I read this book, I thought it followed a linear narrative, but the next time I picked it up, I realized that we actually meet the narrator in the present. From there, she takes you on a trip back in time. I keep rereading to how the story unfolds. It's always reminded me of Gatsby: Towles plunges you into the streets of Manhattan, circa 1938. Young secretary Katey Kontent and her roommate Evelyn meet handsome Tinker Gray by chance, on New Year's Eve (so this would be a great read for this time of year!). The girls vie for his affection—until one impulsive decision changes everything. I love the craft here: Towles sets his scenes so well, and the opening and closing scenes frame the story beautifully. More info →
I fell in love with Adichie's writing after listening to this one on audio, and then I had to experience it in print—a common theme in my rereading life. This story centers around a smart, strong-willed Nigerian woman named Ifemelu. After university, she travels to America for postgraduate work, where she endures several years of near-destitution, and a horrific event that upends her world. The novel grapples with difficult issues without becoming overwrought. I would not have read this based on the flap copy, but I was hooked from page one. Haunting, moving, incredibly well done. More info →
This is simply one of my all-time favorite books. No matter how many times I return to Green Gables, Anne Shirley charms me and teaches me something new. Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert of Prince Edward Island decide to adopt an orphaned boy to help them on their farm, but their messenger mistakenly delivers a girl to Green Gables instead—an 11-year-old feisty redhead named Anne Shirley. She brings compassion, kindness, and beauty wherever she goes; she's a hopeless romantic, committed to her ideals, and guided by pure intentions—though that doesn't keep her from completely upending Marilla and Matthew's quiet life. For those who already know and love Anne Shirley, I highly recommend the version narrated by Rachel McAdams as a wonderful way to revisit an old favorite. More info →
O'Farrell tells this story in interlocking scenes from different viewpoints, occurring between 1944 and 2016. After I turned the last page, I had to read it again to pay closer attention to the structure. It's brilliantly done, and seeing how O'Farrell does it draws me back. This is the story of an unlikely but successful marriage between a floundering American professor and a British film star who hated the limelight so much she faked her own death and disappeared ... until an unexpected bit of news, twenty years old but newly discovered, threatens to unravel everything they've built together. More info →
These 52 "micro-memoirs" are by turns quirky, witty, poignant, and laugh-out-loud funny, and so different from pretty much anything else I've ever read. Like rereading a favorite poem, these snippets of story leave much to the readers' interpretation, and the surprising twists that catch the reader unawares the first time read entirely differently on a repeat visit. Fennelly's style of relaying smart and sometimes scandalous family stories reminds me of David Sedaris, whose work I also enjoy rereading. More info →
A frequent rereading scenario: I read a book, think "this would be perfect for book club!", and either reread it immediately or return to it just before we read it together. In this case, I listened to the audiobook and then picked up a print copy to read it with our Book Club. In 1953 Tehran, a young man failed to meet his betrothed in a Tehran square. Sixty years later and half a world away, the woman, now grown old, is about to discover why. This sweeping love story spans 60 years and two continents, taking the reader between contemporary New England and 1953 Tehran, thoroughly immersing the reader in the volatile political climate of 1950s Iran. More info →
The first time I read this on audio, and then I picked up a hardcover copy, to more thoroughly examine the strong echoes of Huckleberry Finn and The Odyssey I picked up on my first listen. (And, as I mentioned above, to prepare for our Book Club discussion with William Kent Krueger.) This tough and tender coming-of-age story focuses on four Minnesota kids during the Great Depression, whose respective situations become ever more impossible due to human cruelty and circumstance. After a tornado demolishes the last of life as they know it, they realize no one is going to save them—and so they make a plan to save themselves that starts with escaping down the river. A great story, beautifully told. More info →
I reread this book by accident! I read it while vetting books for the Summer Reading Guide and again while I was looking for a quote to use in a podcast episode. While searching for the quote, I ended up sitting down and reading the book again, from start to finish, because it's completely charming. January is a 29-year-old romance writer who no longer believes in happily-ever-after. Gus (her college rival) is a literary fiction writer, suffering from a bout of writer's block. When January runs into Gus near her newly inherited beach house, the two make a bet to get their writing back on track: January will try her hand at the “bleak literary fiction” that Gus writes, and Gus will write a romance novel. A warm and delightfully meta take on love, writing, and second chances. More info →
This is our September Book Club pick as we dig into coming of age-themed novels this fall. I read it first in print, and then on audio because I really wanted to hear Acevedo perform the narration. I'm picking it up again (on paper) to prepare for our book discussion and author chat with Acevedo on September 29th. This incredible novel-in-verse won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature. Xiomara finds her voice as she pours her soul into her notebook. Every frustration, every harassment, every triumph and every secret is turned into a poem. When she gets invited to share her work in slam poetry club, Xiomara isn't sure if she can keep her passion secret from her strict family. But she soon learns that speaking up and living her truth is the only way to be fully herself. More info →
There's something special about rereading a character's journey after you've gotten to know them already. I return to this book again and again, and it feels like reuniting with old friends. Stegner weaves a compelling story out of four ordinary lives and their extraordinary, life-changing friendship as it spans across forty years, tackling themes of love and marriage, calling and duty. This is one of the best explorations of friendship in literature. Bonus: after reading it six or so times, I think I finally, finally understand what the title means. More info →
Are you a re-reader? I’d love to hear about your reading habits—and which books you‘ve read more than once—in the comments.
P.S. Readers have shared that I’d Rather Be Reading is the perfect comfort read for right now—or a lovely gift for the reader in your life. Find a copy at your local bookstore, Amazon, Bookshop, or place a request at your local library.
P.P.S. You can order a signed copy from my local independent bookstore Carmichael’s Bookstore. Order online or call them at 502-896-6950. Just tell them you’d like a signed copy, or put “signed copy” in the order comments.