“Old stories are like old friends, she used to say. You have to visit them from time to time.”― George R.R. Martin, A Storm of Swords
If you are a true bibliophile or, as Stephen King likes to call his loyal fans, a Constant Reader, chances are that you have in your personal library one or more books that you re-read on a regular basis. I know folks who read Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of Rings once a year, without fail. I’ve also seen anecdotes on social media from readers who say that they revisit King’s It, The Stand, or ‘Salem’s Lot every so often. Other readers like to revisit the collected works of Danielle Steel, Nora Roberts, or Isabel Allende, while still others dig To Kill a Mockingbird, The Three Musketeers, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, For Whom the Bell Tolls, or The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
I have been a reader since as long as I can remember, and although for me there’s nothing more exciting than getting a new book, I have quite a few works of fiction and non-fiction that I love to take down from my IKEA bookshelves and dive into, even though I’ve owned them for years and know them by heart.
Non-readers – and right now I live with some people who don’t read as often as I do – might wonder what’s the point of reading a book over and over again. “After all,” a friend – who only read books when he needed to for either college coursework or because they were necessary for his IT job – once remarked (back in the 1980s), “once you’ve read a book from beginning to end, you know how it ends. Wouldn’t it make more sense to go to the library and borrow books instead?”
“To me, re-reading my favorite books is like spending time with my best friends.
I’d never be satisfied to limit myself to just one experience each with my favorite people.”― C S Lewis
Reading favorite books, to me, is like eating favorite – or “comfort” – foods. Yes, I love getting new books, just as much as I like trying new dishes at a restaurant or at home. It’s like going back to Miami and visiting friends from my neighborhood or stopping by Arbetter’s Hot Dogs, my favorite eatery in my hometown in South Florida. It’s fun, for one thing, and – in the case of re-reading, anyway – I always find details or story threads that I missed on previous readings. It’s relaxing, entertaining, and a way to have a sense of continuity and stability in an ever-changing world.
“Curiously enough, one cannot read a book; one can only reread it. A good reader, a major reader, and active and creative reader is a re-reader.”― Vladimir Nabokov, Lectures on Literature
So, without further ado, these are the books – fiction and non-fiction – that I reread on a semi-regular basis:
- Red Storm Rising, by Tom Clancy (1986): I don’t know how many hardcover copies I’ve owned of Clancy’s second published novel, in which the late “master of the technothriller” imagined a conventional Third World War between the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact and the U.S.-led NATO alliance in the late 1980s. I think I’ve bought at least three hardcovers, as well as four paperbacks because I read them so often that they literally fell apart.
- Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker, by Alan Dean Foster but credited to George Lucas (1976): The novelization of Lucas’s Star Wars (1977) is probably the book that I’ve read the most, as well as the most re-bought fiction book I’ve owned. I read my original 1977 mass-market paperback edition from 1977 so often that, like Red Storm Rising a decade later, I had gone through several copies from seventh grade all the way through my graduation from high school. I think I still have a paperback reissue from the mid-1980s somewhere in an unopened moving box, but I have two hardcovers (one from 1976 that my friend Rogers found at a used bookstore and gave me as a present back in the early 1990s, and a 25th Anniversary Star Wars Trilogy omnibus edition from 2002 that includes the novelizations of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi) that I reread every so often.
- The Hunt for Red October, by Tom Clancy (1984): Although I don’t reread this one as much as I do Clancy’s Red Storm Rising, I was introduced to Jack Ryan and his daring mission to help a Soviet sub skipper, Marko Ramius, and a band of disillusioned Soviet naval officers to defect to the West aboard the USSR’s newest Typhoon-class ballistic missile sub, the Red October.
- 11/22/63: A Novel, by Stephen King (2011): Of all my favorite rereads, this one is perhaps the most recently published. Adapted in 2016 as an eight-episode miniseries for Hulu, this is a time-travel story about a 21st Century English teacher who goes back to 1959 and creates an alter-ego (George Amberson) to live in the past and prevent JFK’s assassination on November 22, 1963.
- Star Wars: Heir to the Empire (Thrawn Trilogy #1), by Timothy Zahn (1991): All right, so whenever I reread this Star Wars Legends novel I invariably reread the other two books of the trilogy, but since I got this one first 30 years ago, it’s the one I’ve reread the most, since Bantam Spectra published the books with a year between each volume.
- The Longest Day: June 6, 1944, by Cornelius Ryan (1959): This book probably is the history book I’ve read the most; I first read parts of it in an issue of the Spanish-language edition of Reader’s Digest when we lived in Colombia from 1966 to early 1972. I must have acquired the magazine in 1969, when I was six; I’ve been a World War II buff since then. Need I say that this book tells the story of the first 24 hours of the Normandy invasion from the perspectives of the Allies, the Germans, and the French? I thought not.
- A Bridge Too Far, by Cornelius Ryan (1974): The third (and last) book of Ryan’s World War II Trilogy, A Bridge Too Far is the melancholic true story of Operation Market-Garden, a daring attempt by the Allies to capture a bridgehead over the Rhine River in Nazi-occupied Holland in September of 1944 in a bid to end the war in Europe by Christmas of that year.
- A Night to Remember, by Walter Lord (1955): Another history book with a “you-are-there” vibe, but this one’s about the sinking of RMS Titanic. My copy is from my late maternal grandfather’s collection and it’s a first edition from the 1950s.
- The Day Kennedy Was Shot, by Jim Bishop (1968): As you can deduce from the title, this book is about the events that took place on November 22, 1963, starting with JFK’s last wake-up call at the Hotel Texas in Ft. Worth to the now-dead President’s arrival – in a coffin – at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington, DC aboard Air Force One with the new President, Lyndon B. Johnson and the start of his autopsy at Bethesda Naval Hospital.
- Day of Infamy: The Attack on Pearl Harbor, by Walter Lord (1957): Another “you are there” popular history book, culled from eyewitness accounts and contemporary reports, about the events of December 7, 1941, as seen from the American and Japanese perspectives.
“The contents of someone’s bookcase are part of his history, like an ancestral portrait.” (About Books; Recoiling, Rereading, Retelling, New York Times, February 22, 1987)”— Anatole Broyard
I have, of course, many books that I reread quite a few times in Miami before I moved to “New Hometown, Florida” in 2016, but I chose my top 10 titles because, hey, those are the ones I’ve read the most.
What are some of your favorite re-reads? Feel free to share the titles of your most re-visited books, as well as some insights about them, in the Comments section below!