So many books, so little time — even more books to re-read

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Last Saturday we treated you to some of our booksellers’ choices of books that – despite the never-dwindling to-be-read stack that is a bookseller’s eternal companion – they’d love to revisit. Read on for more from the rest of the team... and of course, let us know what you think of our choices, and what you’d re-read (infinite time permitting), in the comments.

John chooses Where I Was From by Joan Didion

It's been ages since I went back to Joan Didion's Where I Was From; despite it only being a small paperback, it had somehow gravitated to the very bottom of a pile of heavy books placed horizontally, as a bookend, at the top of my tallest bookshelf. Every time I saw it groaning under the Complete Gael Turnbull and the Letters of Sylvia Plath and the hardback Rebecca Wests I thought, “That doesn’t look very stable, must get round to moving that at some point,” but in fact the problem solved itself in the middle of the night last night, luckily without injuring anybody, and I’ve stuck the Didion on my bedside table. It’s my favourite of her books – a cultural history of her California and the California of her ancestors, free-ranging, expansive and kind.

Tamar chooses East of Eden by John Steinbeck

I can’t remember when I first read East of Eden, but I think I was not yet old enough to be reading it, and it definitely gave me nightmares. Perhaps for that reason, it has stuck with me since. Love, guilt, destruction, gruesome violence and a whole lot of Genesis (plus a young version of Steinbeck himself somewhere nestled in there), it’s an epic adventure and I’m excited to re-read it this year. Hopefully no nightmares this time.

Natalia can’t choose between The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño and Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann

My own reading time has become so precious that choosing what to read feels almost a treasure hunt, never mind deciding on what book to re-read. I’m torn between The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño and Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann. Not that they are similar by any means, but it is the overall memory of time and place they produce that I recall as perfectly pleasurable. That unique experience may be impossible to revisit; yet, as soon as I make up my mind, I will see how re-reading changes things.

Rachael chooses The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

The school I attended at 14 had a bookshop, open to pupils once a week. Its stock reflected both the personalities of the various members of staff who had been sequentially responsible for running it, and the years that had passed since their respective eras. I remember pouncing on hoards of slightly dusty (but never previously owned) 1970s orange-backed Penguins, whose cover prices of 85p or thereabouts were gleefully honoured by Mr James, my English teacher and then bookshop superintendent. As well as enabling my access to classic (and somewhat less classic - cough Virginia Andrews) literature, like all great booksellers Mr James was happy to recommend – and obviously, order in – titles based on my regularly-changing obsessions. On the occasion of me arriving boiling over with enthusiasm for Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, and urgently seeking “more like that, please”, he was delighted to present to me Toni Morrison, and to suggest I should start with The Bluest Eye. The writing was thrilling – experimental, uncompromising, blunt and lyrical by turns – and the subject matter like a bucket of cold water on my idealistic, everyone-should-be-equal-and-it-will-all-be-OK teenage soul. It would be another 20 years before I encountered the phrase “check your privilege”, but if ever a book could show the truth of it, it‘s The Bluest Eye. Pecola Breedlove‘s deeply-internalised sense that she can only ‘fit’ into the world if she has blue eyes, and the sorrows she encounters as a result, revealed the real agonies of living with endemic, structural racism in a way that no amount of sober PSHE textbooks could ever hope to. In 2018, where it seems we‘re still having to fight for #blacklivesmatter and speak up about #metoo, it seems like an excellent time for a re-read.

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