• Books I Return to Again and Again (and Again)

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 10 comments

    A few weeks ago I wrote a post where I talked about how I’ve never read Philip Roth and then listed a whole heap of others writers and books I’ve never read.

    This week, I want to list for you every book and writer I have read.

    Nah, just kidding. Although, as I’ve written about before, a few years ago I did start keeping track of every book I read.

    I had cause to scan those lists recently, and I took note of some titles that pop up often, not every year, but with a frequency that makes them stand out.

    Rereading is interesting. I think there are three reasons I reread:

    1) Some books, like Lincoln in the Bardo, I restart again as soon as I finish. Usually I do this because I’m unclear, but curious, about the way it impacted me the first time.

    2) Others I’ll revisit many years, sometimes decades, after a first read. Often I do this because I’m curious to see how my life in the interim has impacted my reading of the book. In other words, to think about how I’ve changed as a reader, and as a person, since the first time. The book itself hasn’t changed since I first read it, so if my reading experience is different the second time, it probably means that I’ve changed.

    3) The third category is books I read again and again because I love them and can’t stay away.


    In the comments I want to hear about all of your favorite rereads, and what makes them so.


    Here are a few of mine:

    Johnny Tremain, Esther Forbes: I’ve written and talked about this book so much that I feel like I’m beating a dead horse, which is a candidate for the oddest and most violent expression in our language. This book, which I first read in adolescence and still read just about every other year, has affected my life in innumerable ways.


    Beatlebone, Kevin Barry: This is among my favorite novels, and I just finished my fourth reading of it. (It came out in 2015!) It’s a fictionalized account of John Lennon journeying to his private island off the west coast of Ireland in 1978 in an effort to bust through a creative nadir, but so much of it is about Barry himself. It’s beautiful and lyrical and dripping with delicious melancholy.


    Jazz, Toni Morrison: I can’t quit reading this book. I feel like it’s an underrated entry in Morrison’s bibliography, often overshadowed by Beloved, which is sometimes seen as the first entry in a trilogy where Jazz is the middle and Paradise the third. Beloved is without a doubt an unforgettable book, and I’ve read it, too, several times. But Jazz does something to me that no other Morrison book, or maybe even no other novel, does. I find something new and beautiful in it every single time.


    Bottom of the 33rd, Dan Barry: Many of you know I’m a baseball obsessive and that the game plays a huge role in my own book. I’ve read hundreds of baseball books, and will read hundreds more if I live long enough, but I can’t imagine any unseating this as my favorite. It covers a 1981 minor league baseball game in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, but what it’s really about is aspiration, and then coping when aspirations turn into busted dreams. Like the other Barry book on my list, this one is full of melancholy and beautiful, lyrical writing.


    The Coast of Chicago, Stuart Dybek: In the same way I can’t imagine loving another baseball book the way I love Bottom of the 33rd, I can’t imagine ever reading a story collection that makes me feel the way Dybek’s does. Like I say on a recent episode of Yak Babies, I want to crawl into this book and die. Standouts include “Hot Ice” and “Blight,” but if you want to try only one story to get a sense of this book, read “Pet Milk.” If you don’t like that, you won’t care for the rest. If you do, the whole collection just might change everything for you.


    Your turn: What are some books you return to again and again, and why? What do you get out of rereading them? Do you find something new in them every time?


    WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is copy editor and fiction editor at the Texas Observer and has written for books for the Dallas Morning News, the Iowa ReviewElectric Literature, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a writing project you’d like help with or an idea to get off the ground, check out our coaching, editing, and publication services.

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    Barbara Mealer

    I seldom reread a book although I have read ‘The Robe’ by Lloyd C. Douglas three times. There is something about the book I love. Then there is Agatha Christie. I’ve read several of her’s twice as they are classics. Jules Vern’s 20,000 leagues under the sea I read twice. Once for pleasure and the second time for an English class. I’ve also read teh ‘Little Women’ series twice because I like JO. There are millions of books out there and I have so little time to reread books if I want to explore new authors and books. Today, I… Read more »

    Jerry Schwartz

    Now that you’ve mentioned it, I read “Little Women” several times when I was in my early teens. I have no idea why it appealed to me.

    Carol B

    David: Yes yes yes to Johnny Tremain! I loved that story as an adolescent and passed that love on to my kids. Other books I have revisited more than twice are: 1) The Bible b/c there is always something new to discover there & much wisdom to be learned within its pages; 2) The Outlander series. (At least 4 times). Such a good story & great characters! 3) 11/22/63 by Stephen King b/c I love time travel stories and his protagonist is such a great character. It’s just a fun story. 4) Beach Music by Pat Conroy. Brilliant. Masterful. Again… Read more »


    I have a copy of the best American short stories. It’s about thirty years old, so it’s dated but I there are stories in there that I read over and over. John Updike is the editor. That book is never far from me. I can’t think of a novel or nonfiction book that I read often, but this one stays with me.

    Jerry Schwartz

    One book I reread every few weeks is “Hint Fiction: An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words or Fewer.” As you can imagine, it’s a quick read. By their very nature, it’s easy to read the stories differently each time. They say so little. They’re analogous to haiku, in that regard. The reader has to do all of the heavy lifting. By contrast, some of the things I’ve reread are pretty hefty. I used to pick up “Vanity Fair” every year or two. I generally don’t reread fiction if I remember the plot, and I have a good memory for… Read more »

    Jerry Schwartz

    The snarky humor, I guess. I think it echoes (or inspired) my own style. That was when I was a teenager. I also read Ivanhoe a few times. I’ve read John Gardner’s “Grendel” more than once. I think Gardner’s sardonic humor attracted me. I have a fascination with historical, mythological, and period pieces; but not universally. I read “Anna Karenina” once, but never felt the urge to reread it nor to read “War and Peace” even once. Much Russian fiction is too dreary for me. It’s like every character is some version of Eeyore. I know that’s unfair, that’s the… Read more »

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