Rereading Books – Part 1

I rarely reread books. I often feel that there are so many classics I haven’t read, so many authors’ works that I haven’t explored yet, so many exciting books being published that I always have something new to read – and not enough time to read it all! So if I reread a book, it’s often got something special that makes me return to it.

With this in mind, I thought I’d go through my bookshelves, pick out the books that I’ve reread and tell you a bit about each one. I found that there were more books than I thought, so I’ve split them into two posts – part 2 will follow shortly!

Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf

Mrs Dalloway reread books

Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf
Oxford World’s Classics, 2000

Set over the course of one day, Mrs Dalloway follows Clarissa Dalloway as she prepares for a party she is throwing that evening. We also see the day of Septimus Smith, a solider who has returned from the war suffering from shell shock, and we begin to see the similarities between him and Clarissa. As the story travels backwards and forwards in time and memories are recalled, the book explores war, homosexuality, feminism, and mental illness.

I’ve spoken before about my love of Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf when I nominated it as my #thisbook for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction (you can read that post here). I’ll try not to repeat myself in this post, but I will say that this was one of the first adult books I read where I knew I wanted to write, and I wanted to write like this. I loved the stream of consciousness technique, the slipping between different characters’ perspectives, the book taking place over the course of just one day, the bustling London streets and Woolf’s descriptions which perfectly capture a moment. I’ve reread the book a number of times and with each reading I discover something new or find myself being affected by different passages or parts of the book to previous readings. I can see myself rereading Mrs Dalloway many more times, and I would call it one of my favourite books.

The Hours – Michael Cunningham

The Hours Michael Cunningham Rereading Books

The Hours – Michael Cunningham
Harper Perennial, 2006

Mrs Dalloway was originally going to be named The Hours, so it makes sense that Michael Cunningham’s novel takes its name from the book which inspired it. Mrs Dalloway plays a central role in The Hours which tells the stories of three women who are all linked by Woolf’s classic novel: Virginia Woolf in the 1920s as she starts writing the novel; a young wife and mother living in Los Angeles who is desperate to escape and read her copy of the book; and Clarissa Vaughan in 1990s New York as she buys flowers for a party she is throwing that evening for her dying friend.

I can’t remember how I discovered that there had been a book written which was based on Mrs Dalloway, but as soon as I did, I ordered it. I remember reading the prologue (depicting Woolf’s suicide in 1941) and knowing, almost instantly, that I would love this book. I love Cunningham’s writing style which reads like an homage to Woolf. I love the symmetry of this book with Mrs Dalloway at its centre and the stories of the three women linked by the novel. The Hours draws Woolf’s novel in a new light and complements it perfectly. Of course, it can be read without having read Mrs Dalloway, but reading Woolf’s novel before this one means that you notice those subtle nuances and similarities that might otherwise pass you by. There’s a film version of the book too, which I also enjoy.

Little Women – Louisa M. Alcott

Little Women

My various copies of Little Women – Louisa M. Alcott
The Thames Publishing Co; Penguin Popular Classics (1994); and The Children’s Press (1967)

Little Women tells the story of four sisters as they approach womanhood. We watch their struggles and joys and the important lessons they learn.

If I remember rightly, my Mum gave me her copy of Little Women to read when I was younger and I loved it. It was one of those books where I identified with some of the characters: the shyness of Beth and the love of writing and reading of Jo. I can’t count the number of times I read this as a child and I’ve also reread it as an adult. Reading it recently, I remember feeling that the Mother’s teaching came across quite strongly, but when I was younger this wasn’t something I noticed. I just remember enjoying reading about the sisters’ adventures, their friendships, their trials, and their small joys. I believe I have read the books which came after Little Women (Little Men and Jo’s Boys) but neither of them gripped my imagination as the first book did.

The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

IMG_20140725_111242623

The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
Vintage, 2005

When the novel opens, Claire is twenty years old and has known Henry since she was six – but he has no idea who she is. Opening with this perplexing scenario, we soon learn that Henry has a genetic condition which causes him to be wrenched backwards and forwards in time without warning. We follow their story as they attempt to build a life together – one where Henry is regularly pulled away from Claire to his past or future.

When I moved out of home for the first time and started University I had boxes of books that I needed for my course. But I wanted to take a few familiar books from home that I could read if I wanted. The Time Traveller’s Wife was one of these books that occupied shelves dominated by required reading. I enjoy the love story of this book, but it’s the time travelling element that interests me the most. Through this science fiction/magical realism prism, there is a very human element: two people who love each other but are continually wrenched apart by a force they can’t control. It’s a story filled with love, loneliness, and loss. It’s a moving and enthralling story and one that I can’t help but keep returning to. I haven’t read it since that first year in university though, so perhaps it’s time for another reread…

 

Part 2 of this post should be up soon where I’ll run through a few more books I’ve reread. Do you reread books? If you do, which ones do you return to most?

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28 thoughts on “Rereading Books – Part 1

  1. I’m a slow reader so I don’t think I have the luxury of being able to reread many books but saying that I made an exception last year for A Confederacy of Dunces. I also think I should re-read Catch 22 again.

    I have Little Women on my “to read” shelf but I hated The Time Traveller’s Wife. Can’t say why now, but I absolutely loathed it. And I’m a Doctor Who fan so it wasn’t the time travel element. Not sure, I probably wrote a review somewhere slagging it off.

    • I still haven’t read Catch 22…I really should – it’s been on my to-read list for ages!

      It seems that The Time Traveler’s Wife is one of those books that divides opinion – on Goodreads it looks like reviews alternate between 5 stars and 1 star haha.

      Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

  2. I used to only reread one or two comfort reads, but lately I’ve reread much more because I’ve come to realise that your understanding and appreciation can be so different at different times of life. And now I find myself wanting to revisit so many classics

    • I agree – it’s why I’ve kept hold of so many books even if I don’t like them, because I’m sure that I will come to appreciate them at a later point.

  3. I used to re-read all the time – classics, crime (I have a rotten memory so can never remember whodunit!), fiction…anything. It’s only been the last three or so years since I’ve been inundated with review copies of new books that i’ve got out of the habit. And I miss it badly – a re-read can be so much more satisfying than a new read. My ambition is to get the new stuff under control to leave some time for old favourites…

    • I agree, rereading can be so satisfying – particularly if you discover something new or appreciate different parts of the book to a previous reading 🙂

  4. Interesting post, Gemma. Like you, I rarely reread books, but the one I keep going back to is The Great Gatsby; every time I read it, I seem to discover something new, a different nuance or slant on one of the characters.

  5. I find it difficult to reread books, I always just want to get onto the next story (totally opposite to how I watch TV or films, where I generally rewatch my favourites a million times). At the moment I really want to reread Harry Potter, see how I find it now.

    • Recently I’ve been wanting to reread Harry Potter too! It feels like a big commitment at the moment though, especially as there are so many other new books on my list! I’m sure I’l reread them again soon though…

  6. I think I’d love to reread The Hours as I adored it so much – but fear I will cry buckets as I did the first time! It is one of the mist beautiful books I’ve ever read. And thank you for such a lovely post. I always find it interesting to hear about re-reading books, and it’s something I’m focusing on at the moment. Looking forward to part two.

  7. I find myself re-reading rather more than I would like because so often I recommend books that I have already read to the book groups with which I am involved and then find that I need to re-read them as the requisite meeting is a year or more after my first acquaintance with the novel. As an English lecturer I was also often in the position of needing to read a book more than once in order to be able to guide the students with whom I was working. So, I suppose in many respects re-reading has been part of my life. Every now and again, though, I will choose to re-read something just for the pleasure of spending time with those characters.

  8. I love rereading, and whilst I do feel sometimes like I’m missing out on discovering many of the talented authors who are in print nowadays, I never regret once I get to the end of a book I know and love.

    The Time Traveler’s Wife and Little Women are two books of mine that have seen a lot of love. If I was asked to pick my top 3 books, The Time Traveler’s Wife would be in there. Little Women is a book I reread yearly, around winter time, typically I dedicate the month of December for rereads.

    I look forward to seeing what books you share in part 2!
    🙂

  9. Rereading is something I’d love to do more of, but unfortunately rarely find the time for it! However, I do love to reread crime novels, as I like reading them with a different perspective, after knowing all the details. There are lots of other books I’d love to reread too, mainly ones I haven’t read for years – The Kite Runner, The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood, and 1984 (but mainly for THAT long bit in the middle that I didn’t read first time round!).

    One book I would love to reread is David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, because I just loved it so much the first time. However, I think I’m going to wait a while before I reread it, I don’t want it to ever lose it’s magic.

    Love this idea for a post! 🙂

    • Thanks Charlotte 🙂 Rereading crime novels sounds like a great idea! Ah yes, I think the one downside to rereading a book many times can be that it loses that initial magic. But often if there are new things to discover, it can be really rewarding to reread 🙂

  10. I’m always torn between rereading a favorite book and reading a new book. I wish I had more time to do both. But there are some books, like Mrs. Dalloway, that you almost need to read more than once to get everything out of them that’s there. (Does that make sense?) But I admit, some books I reread just because I love them. Great post. Can’t wait for part 2.

  11. Great list! I also love Mrs. Dalloway, I think it’s time for a re-reading as well, because it’s been 6 years since I first read – and fell in love with – it.

    I think The Time Traveler’s Wife has something to do with emotional processes… You took it with you when you moved out of the house and it was the book I was reading when my grandma suddenly passed away 5 years ago. I remember feeling numb for over a week, unable to keep reading. And then one day, I picked up the book and started reading again. However, it felt as if the book itself contained that break between the before and after of my grandma’s death and my own grief.

    • I hadn’t thought about that, but you’re right, maybe rereading books can often be something to do with emotional processes or memories that are associated with a particular book. It’s what makes reading and our responses to a book so personal, I think.

  12. I agree with the first paragraph of this post – I find it difficult to reread books with the knowledge that there are so many more books out there waiting to be read. However, you include a wonderful selection here; I haven’t read any of these books yet but I really want to. I wasn’t a fan of Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, but I loved a Room of One’s Own, and several have told me to check out Mrs. Dalloway and The Hours. I’m also reading Little Women for my American Lit class in the fall, which should be exciting. I’m glad that you’ve been able to choose the books you’ve reread and explain why you appreciate them, and I look forward to part 2!

  13. Pingback: Rereading Books – Part 2 | The Perfectionist Pen

  14. I’m just the same, I hardly ever reread, but funnily enough Little Women is one of the few I’ve reread as well! His Dark Materials trilogy and Cloud Atlas are also on the (very short) list.

    • I think Little Women is one of those books that can be reread time and time again! I still haven’t read Cloud Atlas – it’s on my list, I must get round to it soon!

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