Recommendations 5/2/2021: To Re-Read or not to Re-Read

A good question from a reader.

In this week’s column I attempt to use the tools of literary analysis to get a handle on what many of us are going through.

The column owes much to those who shared their own thoughts/feelings/experiences with getting vaccinated and starting to re-emerge into broader society. Hearing these stories helped me better grapple with my own uncertainty. Maybe my perspective can be helpful to others.

Next week’s column is on the horrifying revelations regarding Philip Roth’s biographer Blake Bailey. Slate did a deep dive into Bailey’s time as a middle school teacher in New Orleans, his methods and practices for manipulating vulnerable young girls who he later preyed upon. It is literally stomach churning and be forewarned of its potential to upset. If you want to be even more devastated, Slate has also published an essay by one of Bailey’s alleged victims.

I’ve re-written next week’s column more than any other in my nine-plus years of filling a spot at the Tribune, and there may be more to go before it goes online early next week.

Since our little collective is doing such an excellent job answering questions about our reading habits and predilections, I have another one that comes courtesy of reader Bill B., who wants to know how I choose which books to re-read.

I was a dedicated re-reader for much of my life, but I rarely do it now, as a sense of professional obligation to engage with the new usually keeps me pressing forward with what’s current.

The books I read as a kid are probably my most read all-time. I’d sometimes finish a book then just turn to the front and start over again. I read Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising series at least half a dozen times when I was young, and even read it again as an adult.

It totally held up.

The adult book I’ve re-read the most in my life is probably the novel, The Water-Method Man by John Irving, one of his earlier books before his breakout success with The World According to Garp. I re-read it so many times because I lifted its structure to use in my own (out-of-print) novel, The Funny Man.

There’s short stories I’ve read dozens and dozens of times because I’ve taught them. It’s incredible how some of these stories managed to work on my emotions no matter how many times I read or discussed them. The concluding paragraph of the story “Work” from Denis Johnson’s collection Jesus’ Son makes the top of my head tingle every…single…time.

Maybe that’s my answer: I re-read something to guarantee that tingling sensation that signals a kind of leaving behind of my own consciousness, something only books have ever been able to achieve.

Why do you re-read?

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Both the Washington Post and New York Times tell us what books we should be on the lookout for in May. (Click the publication names for the lists.) I appreciate these lists, but you will notice there’s often significant overlap, and that’s because these lists are merely reflective of which books publishers are expecting (and hoping) will get attention and sell. There is no explicit or even implicit endorsement of quality in the lists.

The story of how Richard Wright’s The Man Who Lived Underground was not published until decades after his death is fascinating, and illuminating in terms of who gets to tell what kinds of stories in our culture.

If you’re not listening to The Maris Review, the author-interview podcast of Maris Kreizman, you’re missing out.

This week is the 15-year anniversary for Open Books Chicago, the reading-related charity all affiliate income for purchases from links from this newsletter goes to. If you’d like to donate directly to the cause, you can do that here.


Reading Companion(s) of the Week

Lindy and Luke look like they might’ve dozed off while listening to a good story.


All links to books on these posts go to The Biblioracle Recommends bookshop at Affiliate income for purchases through the bookshop goes to Open Books in Chicago. Another big jump in income last week, up to $42.30 for the year.

There is a bit of a backlog for recommendations, but as always, the sooner you send your request in, the sooner I can get to it.

Want a recommendation? Click here!

1. The Push by Ashlely Audrain
2. Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
3. The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel
4. Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain
5. Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

Loren E. - Lake Zurich, IL

A nice, emotional read looks like a good fit for Loren, which brings to mind The World Without You by Joshua Henkin.

1. A Swim in the Pond in the Rain by George Saunders
2. Be Holding by Ross Gay
3. Emergent Strategy by adreinne maree brown 
4. So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
5. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

Charlie P. - Cullman, AL

When I’ve got a reader who is open to poetry, I can’t help myself but recommend more poetry. In this case, it’s King Me by Roger Reeves.

1. The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
2. Slow Horses by Mick Herron
3. Lexicon by Max Barry
4. The Codebreaker by Walter Isaacson
5. The Intuitionist by Colton Whitehead

Rick K. - Cary, NC

This is like a list of some of my favorite books of all-time, so I shouldn’t have a hard time knocking this out of the park, but of course that’s when my Biblioracle sensors are most likely to seize up. Thankfully, Miles from Nowhere by Nami Man has rise out of the ether to announce itself as the next read for Rick.

1. Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami 
2. Help Yourself by Curtis Sittenfeld
3. The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich
4. Dance of the Happy Shades by Alice Munro
5. In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

Fay H. - Melbourne, Australia

Australia! The Biblioracle has gone international!

If you’re enjoying the newsletter, please pass the word to others who might be similarly inclined. The more people we gather together, the more fun we can have here. I think the tough, witty, propulsive Bad Marie by Marcy Dermansky is the match here.

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