A few years ago, a friend challenged me to post a photograph of my 10 favourite books on this blog. The list took a while to put together, and I finally came up with 15.
I’m an inveterate list maker, so I tend to keep running lists in my head of my 10 (or 15 or 20) best books, albums and movies. But while I listen to the albums often, and go back to the movies from time to time, I realized that I hadn’t actually read the books on my list for years—just dipped into them.
So over the next year, I’m going to revisit these old friends. I came across them for the first time when I was much younger—how will I see them now? Some of them, like Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Sonnets, reflected who I was then—or thought I was (if I remember correctly, that was 1978). Forty years later, will these poems speak to me as they once did? I have grown and changed, as we all do when life happens to us. Can I still tap into the magic that these books once held for me?
There are a few on the list that I know almost by heart. One of them is Under Milk Wood, which I have reviewed on this blog. The copy my husband gave me (there’s a story there that you can find in the review) is falling apart, so I’m very careful with it. But we do have a complete recording of the play, and we can both recite whole passages of it. Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and Macbeth are works that I know well but haven’t read for years. My latest memories of both is watching films based on them—Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, which wasn’t entirely true to the original, and Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth, which was. And with the publication of a new series from Hogarth Press where well-known writers rework Shakespeare plays into contemporary novels, this might be a good time to go back to the originals.
For the last several years, I have been focusing on books that I haven’t read before. There are so many new ones published that it is impossible to keep up, and I often feel I need a couple of lifetimes to get anywhere. And the reading challenge some of us set ourselves a few years ago has opened up a whole new world of writing from countries around the world.
In the effort to read widely and as much as I can, I have neglected the ones that have been part of my life for a long time. I am not going to stop reading new books but will intersperse them with these old familiars, letting them tell me their stories again. And while I’m about it, I might add a couple to that ever-growing list. I am thinking of Flicker by Theodore Roszak, which I read in the 1990s and was very taken with at the time. It’s a sort of whodunit (in the Umberto Eco mould) about film and semiotics, so right up my street. And one that is eminently dippable, my father’s copy of the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, which does not list quotes by subject, ready to be inserted into a speech, but by author and work, which makes it a delight—like having the best extracts from literature at your fingertips.
As I read these books, I will write about them on this blog. And if you want to share your own list of favourites or your thoughts on rereading them, I would love to hear from you.