The 7 best books to re-read

When we revisit a book from our childhood, we might find new layers of meaning—or realize it hasn't lived up to our memory.  

Chari Smith, a scientist and self-proclaimed book addict, found that some childhood favorites "brought back fond memories but did not feel nuanced or rich enough to excite me the second time around," she wrote in a letter to the New York Times' "Match Book" column. "Others, like Night, by Elie Wiesel, and The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, were like partially peeled onions, with new layers to explore in the wake of more than a half century of life experience."

So Smith asked for book recommendations from the "high school and early college canon that may benefit from an adult perspective." Nicole Lamy, the "Match Book" columnist, answered.

Lamy pulled from her high school reading lists and chose some books seasoned readers should revisit. Here are a few of her picks:

  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
  • "An Enemy of the People" by Henrik Ibsen
  • Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  • The Reef by Edith Wharton
  • Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

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García Márquez's magical realist epic novel "reveals more of its sly wit with each rereading," writes Lamy. And Morrison's prize-winning book will draw young readers in with its "inventive language, often heavy with grief," she adds. "To an adult reader, though, even the shroud of beautiful writing can’t distract from the horror and tragedy of an intimately imagined family story of slavery."

While rereading can be an inefficient way to remember information, revisiting books can help you reflect on how your life has (or hasn't) changed since the last time you read them.   

Rereading "reminds us that we can experience something intensely and not be seeing everything at the time. And going back, we see something different," says Jill Campbell, an English professor at Yale University. "It’s a way of thinking more about a book that’s had an impact on you, but it’s also a way of thinking about your own life, memories, and experiences. The continuities and the differences."

Rereading can also be a therapeutic experience. "[W]hen you’re feeling stagnant, like you’ve made no progress, [rereading] gives a shape to that experience and suggests it will pass," says Rosalie Knecht, a licensed therapist who writes Literary Hub’s "Dear Book Therapist" advice column (Lamy, New York Times, 5/8; Court, The Atlantic, 7/27). 

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