I came across this rather strange and fascinating post on The Rumpus today about a painter and jewelry designer named Julie Vanderburg who has been obsessively reading and rereading Thomas Hardy’s Return of the Native for twelve years. At first, I thought it was a little weird, but I guess it’s no weirder than watching a favorite movie over and over.
She says that she keeps reading the book because she’s in love with it. She loves the language, and learns new things each time she reads it. I suppose that it has become like the comfort of an old blanket for her.
I’ve had some “old blanket” books–none that I read continuously–but certainly books I have read yearly or regularly enough to memorize portions of them.
First, it was Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland. I had always felt a strong connection to Alice–like we were soul sisters–though I judged her harshly for having all of my worst qualities; namely, an overactive imagination and a penchant for believing in impossible things.
Then, my father–who worked in the air freight business–brought me home an old book with no cover that he had found in a crate at work. It was Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach, and what a treasure that turned out to be. From there I developed a Roald Dahl obsession, and read all of his books aloud to my father and younger brother on the way to school over a year period.
Once I was old enough to have an intelligent conversation, my well-read grandmother started giving me books that we would talk about once I read them. I was shocked when she started me on the V. C. Andrews, Flowers in the Attic series because, first, I couldn’t believe people actually wrote things like that about men and women in widely read books, and second, I couldn’t believe my grandmother liked reading books like that. I did, ultimately, give those books away when I determined that they were smut I wouldn’t want my kids reading, but every now and then I wish I had kept Flowers.
As an adult, there are two books I read every year at least once.
1) The Great Gatsby. Seriously, why would anyone ever write another book after reading that? It gets better and better every time I read it. It’s literary perfection high school kids can’t possibly appreciate.
2) Possession by A. S. Byatt. When I asked my favorite college professor which book would be a classic for our kids, she answered, without hesitation, “Possession.” It’s about two present day literature professors researching old poets who discover they had a love affair. It’s a complex literary mystery, it’s work to read, but the payoffs are worth it. What’s most amazing about the book is that the present day prose, old fashioned poems, and historic letters are all written in very different styles, but it’s all the same author–A. S. Byatt. Her talent is overwhelming.
What do you read over and over?