The Comfort and Joy of Re-reading

We re-read books for many reasons; among people I know, the main reason seems to be comfort and familiarity. One friend, Cindy, has practically memorized the Betsy-Tacy books. Others, and they are legion, re-read To Kill a Mockingbird as regularly as some re-read the Bible. Every decade or so, I pick up my tattered copy of Mara, Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw, and settle in with the book that first sparked my interest in Ancient Egypt. (I still remember my grade-school report with carefully rendered chalk drawings of temples.) And for some of us, certain mystery authors can be returned to with delight (and that's a later Shelf column). But what about books that are so compelling, so fabulous, that we re-read them as soon as we finish them, driven by a need to recapture the magic we felt only moments ago?

The first book I remember in that way is Iron and Silk, Mark Salzman's memoir of teaching English in China. I knew little about present-day China at the time, and Salzman's book opened a new world for me; more importantly, his writing was so unaffected and enchanting, the minute I read the last page, I started over, unwilling to let go of China and the story. It made such an impression on me, I can even recall where I was sitting at the time.

Another book, just published, that affected me in a similar way is The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. Our reviewer called this retelling of part of The Iliad "a dazzling jewel of a novel," and it definitely is. It is also an emotionally moving story, and I'm not alone in weeping at the final pages. In reading it again, besides the lure of the prose and the tale, I wanted to revisit everything that led up to the dénouement. Knowing the ending is no barrier to enjoying the journey once more.

What do you like to re-read? --Marilyn Dahl, book review editor, Shelf Awareness

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