Monday, March 2, 2009

Twice-read Tales

I had a week off and spent some of it rereading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, because we will be discussing it at the library's Book Discussion Group this week. (I blogged about this book in August of 2008.) Sometimes having to reread a book is one of the down sides of being a book group facilitator. But more often than not, the second read turns up all sorts of things you find yourself taking in on a new level or with a new eye. In Guernsey..., for me, besides absolutely adoring the main character Juliet Ashton and her island pen pals who later become what we might call her "tribe", I realized how much historical detail about World War II I was absorbing, much of it the Nazi atrocities, some of it simply how the war affected the lives of ordinary people in London and on the Channel Islands. Although I was delighted when one of the book group members suggested this title, I admit I sort of moped around about having to ignore newer books and reread this one. Yet within moments of opening it up, I was swept away again by its charm and uniqueness.

I got to thinking about other books I've read more than once. Perhaps this habit started when I was young. Among the books I recall reading over and over are: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, and Cress Delahanty by Jessamyn West. All of these beloved books helped to show me what it was like for other young women growing up. I identified with Jo in Little Women because she was so bookish. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn resonated because my mother grew up in Brooklyn, and I had relatives there. To be honest, I don't really remember what it was about Cress Delahanty that delighted me, other than her name. Perhaps I need to read it again. At one time I remember I owned it in hardback and had much pride in ownership. Most of the hardbacks I owned were bought at the local public library book sales. I was a loyal book shopper at such sales, having saved up my allowance and babysitting money so I could really stock up on bargains. The wealth of books that could be acquired that way astounded me.

When I moved to Houston after graduate school, I reread the Larry McMurtry books that were set here: Moving On, Terms of Endearment, etc. Once I lived in Houston, I wanted to see if his descriptions rang true. They did. I also reread Leaving Cheyenne (his second book, set in the Texas Panhandle, published in 1963) several times and I'd like to read it yet again some day. It is the classic story of a love triangle, suffused with innocence and regret.

I look forward to rereading Anne Tyler, one of my all-time favorite American writers. Also on the reread list: The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. I went through a stage in high school where I read all of Buck's novels I could find. Some of the magical realists call me back, especially Eva Luna and/or The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende and One Thousand Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I've read The Dollmaker by Harriette Arnow more than once, and still might again. I am thinking of it since I just recommended it to a customer today. It is the tale of a poverty-stricken Kentucky woman whittler who is uprooted and forced to move to Detroit during World War II.

Occasionally, I reread a book and don't find it as spellbinding as I once did (those titles shall go unnamed). I really do not have the desire to reread most books. Life is too short. "So many books, so little time", as the librarians' t-shirt slogan goes. Perhaps the desire to reread is the ultimate compliment for an author. Don't "classics" become so because people want to keep reading and recommending them? If I had more time, I would create an even longer list of books to reread. But I'll save that task for retirement, a word that is beginning to seem not so foreign to my lips.

One more for the list: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee That title will be the Big Read @ HCPL and other local libraries this Spring. I look forward to reading it again, supplemented by the recent biography of Harper Lee by Charles J. Shield, Mockingbird. Join us at the West University Senior Services Building (6104 Auden St. , Houston, TX 77005) on May 13 @ 11 AM to discuss the biography of this much loved author.

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