If there’s a key danger in bookselling – aside from pouring a potentially shameful amount of one’s salary back into the coffers of one’s employer thanks to the twin temptations of proximity to many, many books and employee discount – it’s the seduction of the new. Days spent hearing about just-released and forthcoming titles from publishers’ reps, and then talking about them to customers, can lead to a peculiar sense of guilt in returning to old favourites. “So many books! So little time!” runs the refrain of the subconscious.
But re-reading can bring a particular deep and abiding pleasure (so much so that several people have written books about it), so we challenged ourselves to come up with at least one great book that we would like to re-read. Here’s the result – let us know what you think of our choices, and what you’d re-read (infinite time permitting), in the comments.
Gayle chooses Paradise Lost by John Milton
I have meant to re-read Paradise Lost many times since I first read it (in a blind panic, in preparation for an essay at university), but I admit, when the religious epic bug has seized me, I’ve usually taken the easier re-read route, and gone with His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman’s Milton-inspired fantasy series, instead. All I really remember about Paradise Lost is a) I liked it, and b) I had a wild crush on Satan, the absolute babe. I will be interested to see whether my poetry appreciation skills have developed at all in the intervening years.
David chooses Voices of the Old Sea by Norman Lewis
As a child, I re-read a lot. There weren’t all that many books in the house, and the library in my small town was small. At first, Wind in the Willows. Then, as a young adult (not that there were such things in those days) The Thurber Carnival and Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying. Since then, Gilbert White’s Natural History of Selborne and J.A. Baker’s The Peregrine have been constant and faithful companions. But the book I’d most like to re-read, but never have, is Norman Lewis’s Voices of the Old Sea. It’s an account of his time living in a small fishing village in Catalonia, just a few years before mass tourism turned it into the Costa Brava. Affectionate and deeply moving, it’s also profoundly strange, reminiscent of the magic realism of García Marquez and Isabel Allende. I’ll re-read it soon!
‘Bram Stoker or Mary Shelley?’ asked the TLS in a recent interview with poet Emily Berry. ‘Toni Morrison,’ she replied, and I cheered at my computer screen. This reminded me of a remarkable book of Morrison’s which I read in one sitting a few years ago. It is spooky and sharp and haunted and haunting, but Jazz isn’t a typical Stoker/Shelley scary story, not least because the narrator reveals the plot to us on the very first page. Once introduced, this plot is returned to and improvised upon again and again, a bit like, you might say, a musical phrase in jazz. At least I think it is. I read this book a bit too quickly to be honest, and I would like to return to it to give more attention to Morrison’s formal ambition and flair.
And as if this weren’t already an embarrassment of riches, here’s part 2 of our re-reads selection.