31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
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.
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on March 2, 2006
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.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 6, 2007
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
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 4, 2011
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.
on October 19, 2014
This collection draws from the "Rereadings" section of THE AMERICAN SCHOLAR. Writers consider books that have been pivotal in their personal or intellectual development.
Editor Anne Fadiman has gathered pieces from a wide variety of authors, film makers, and journals writing about everything from PRIDE & PREJUDICE to the album lyrics to SGT PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND. The essayists also vary sharply in their approach to their material. Some are nostalgic. Others tongue-in-cheek. A few are measured and academic. All of them speak to the intimate nature of our relationship with what we read.
My personal favorite is probably Barbara Sjoholm's "The Ice Palace." She explores the fairy tale "The Snow Queen" framed by her own travelogue of a visit to an ice hotel near the very top of the world. Nadine Gordimer's discussion of the works of Colette was also a standout and shows a fictional world's uneasy dependence on its historical era.
As a whole, the collection rekindled my interest in some old favorites and also introduced me to others that I'm now eager to delve into for the first time.
on April 25, 2012
Not sure if I can do justice to this little gem, so much better than it sounds from the dust jacket's chilling pronouncement 'Seventeen Writers Revisit Books They Love'. I think the revisiting is the operative word. It's not criticism - or not only - but literature and memoir both, and the books discussed are mere catalysts for the Proustian riffs of the mostly (to me) unfamiliar contributors, though the Plath/Mansfield(K) conjunction I found highly suggestive, and though I can't say I share one contributor's enthusiasm for Whitman as stylist (this side the pond he's seen as more of an eccentric) such considerations are irrelevant to this sublime, luminous collection. The books we read in youth - ANY books - are bottled sunshine
The contrast with Patricia Meyer Spacks' run-of-the-mill professorial swansong, nondescript as either nostalgia or analysis, could hardly be more marked. Both creative and academic sectors write, we must hope, from inner necessity (for love) as well as duty, but the latter is more likely to end up doing it out of sheer habit or vanity