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Rereadings: Seventeen writers revisit books they love Paperback – September 5, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Former American Scholar editor Fadiman (Ex Libris) has drawn from a column in that journal for a charming collections of essays on the varied ways book lovers read. The best of these entries—Arthur Krystal's return to H.C. Witwer's boxing novel, The Leather Pushers; Dianna Kappel-Smith's assessment of the field guide that stirred an interest in the natural world; Michael Upchurch's consideration of Christina Stead's fictional financial world—are written by masters of the essay form, revealing themselves at the different phases of their lives through the act of reading. All of the writers share a gratitude for the books that helped them navigate their lives, especially over the rocky shoals of adolescence. The return to beloved works is not always simple, especially when readers come to see the faults in books that they so closely identified with years earlier. As many note, the act of reading changes over the course of a lifetime, from an easy engagement with plot and character to an awareness of politics and style. They may bemoan their own loss of literary innocence, but each finds a new way to appreciate the texts that have accompanied them through life. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

As demonstrated in Ex Libris (1998), Fadiman is a superb literary essayist with a great appreciation for the art of reading. As editor of American Scholar, she has encouraged similarly incisive musings in a feature titled "Rereadings," which was inspired by her experience reading a childhood favorite of her own to her son. Fadiman got to thinking about how books beloved in one's youth read differently in one's maturity. This theme generates juicy and satisfying blends of fluent literary criticism and rueful memoir as 17 writers revisit works that left them thunderstruck at a tender age and now lead them to confront their younger selves. Luc Sante reconsiders Rimbaud, Vivian Gornick rereads Colette, Allegra Goodman returns to Austen. In one of the finest pieces, Patricia Hampl offers a brilliant portrait of Katharine Mansfield and of the woman who introduced Hampl to the only writer Virginia Woolf viewed as a rival. And Sven Birkerts, in remembering his mother's fascination with Knut Hamsun and his own quaking response to Pan, offers the perfect description of the unending pleasure of books: "time spent in a vivid elsewhere." Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (September 5, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374530548
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374530549
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.8 x 7.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #710,711 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By David Evans VINE VOICE on January 21, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In this collection of essays, Anne Fadiman (author of the delicious Ex Libris and the excellent The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down) and 17 other authors revisit books that affected them in earlier years.

In the foreword, Fadiman tells of reading The Horse and His Boy (from C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia) aloud to her young son and how differently she experienced the book from when she read it as a child. She goes on to make a compelling case for rereading in general. "If a book read when young is a lover, that same book, reread later on, is a friend...This may sound like a demotion, but after all, it is old friends, not old lovers, to whom you are most likely to turn when you need comfort."

The rest of the essays are part memoir and part literary criticism. Of the 18 books (I say books, even though one is a poem and one is an album cover), I've read only two. That mattered more for the essays that leaned more heavily towards criticism, but for the most part, the only prerequisite is an interest in books.

A particularly powerful essay is Diana Kappel Smith's review of a field guide to wildflowers, in which I read (with some envy) how the right book can wonderfully determine an entire life trajectory. My other favorites were Arthur Krystal's essay on an early 20th century boxing book and Katherine Ashenburg's essay on a series of books about a nurse, written for young readers in the 1940s and 50s.

Ultimately, it was impossible to read this book without reflecting on the books that affected me as a youth and wondering how they would affect me now. (How would the passionate activism in Edward Abbey's The Monkey Wrench Gang or in Alice Walker's Possessing the Secret of Joy strike me today?) It may be time to visit some old friends.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Harry P. Travis on March 2, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This volume has so little in common with collected interpretations, scholarly or chatty, of single literary works or authors. Nor do the (mostly) books written about suffer the sameness and burden of being "most influential" for the writers. Editor Anne Fadiman brilliantly introduces the act of self-revelation accomplished by passing books through prisms of innocence and then of experience and writing about the display. Whether or not you recognize the writers and the works they are responding to when re-engaged, you will find the essays express the potential of authors, books, and ideas to stain and define the slides of self-image within readers. Bad metaphor, that: happily, the essays all want for clinical dryness and laboratory precision; and scholarship has little role here but to entertain.

Everyting about this book, including the printing and hand feel (and not least the crazy-cheap Amazon price) led me to splurge on copies for friends. "Rereadings" is a book to give when you would feel self-conscious about a volume of poetry; when a jumble of psychobable or confessional would be embarass giver or recipient or both; and the burden of plowing through 500+ pages of popular history, biography, or memoir would be, well, doubly burdensome.

This book would be a find if just 5 of the essays furnished a total of an hour of instruction and delight. Be prepared to be surprised and engaged by a dozen more than that. And don't wait for the paperback. You'll want to share this one.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on January 6, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Is the same book viewed the same way on a second reading? Seventeen authors provide a collection of essays to demonstrate re-readings are never the same as the first reading. Authors range from Patricia Hampl to Luc Sante, and their subjects from PRIDE AND PREJUDICE to a science field guide; so the diversity of genre is especially vivid and useful in demonstrating the power and insight of the re-reading. The first-person insights show how rereadings contribute to new perceptions and provide added enjoyment and even new details. A tribute to any book lover who has read a favorite a second or third time and discovered new meaning between the same pages.

Diane C. Donovan

California Bookwatch
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Dog Lover on December 4, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In pain and discomfort enough so that I could not sleep, last night I decided to take a powerful pain killer (I'm greatly reluctant to use chemistry for such trials.) While waiting for the medicine to take effect, I picked up Rereadings - edited by Anne Fadiman. Being a collection of 17 essays, I reasoned that I could stop reading when my body granted me the ability to sleep because of the easy breaks provided by the book's structure.

Hah! This was such enchanting reading that I ended up reading through to the end - sleep is over-rated. I'd never heard of any of the contributors but the writing is so mesmerizing that I am anxious to seek out any published work by each of them to see if that writing excellence is found in other offerings. One essay even convinced me to give Whitman another chance when (after 3 attempts) I had decided my mind just didn't accommodate itself to that writing. The subjects (and the books referenced) are widely varied from 9/11 to plant biology to Sargent Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band while including timeless works from such titans as Stendhal, Rimbaud and dancing across Jane Austen, Colette, and Joseph Conrad. Unfamiliar-to-me authors such as Katherine Mansfield and Knut Hamsun sent me immediately to Amazon to seek out purchases but convinced me that I am most likely unable to appreciate Christina Stead - I am too weak-minded! I no longer associate Salinger only with that twit - Holden Caulfield. I am much more willing to investigate more of Waugh and will look at Shakespeare with a new eye.

One phrase from the essay featuring Rimbaud (A Companion of the Prophet by Luc Sante) neatly sums up my delight in this book: "...alchemy of language." Indeed, some magic has transformed these collections of words into solid gold.

Simply outstanding.
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