Re-reading some, banishing others from the bookshelf

Why some books strike you differently now than when you first read them.

Every few years, I find myself re-reading old favorites from my bookshelf: books of impeccable essays by E.B. White, Mark Helprin’s otherworldly “Winter’s Tale,” or classic children’s books from L.M. Montgomery’s “Anne of Green Gables” to Susan Cooper’s “The Dark Is Rising.”

So I wasn’t surprised, when listening to a radio interview, to learn that rock-star librarian Nancy Pearl has her own list of books to regularly revisit (she favors Ross Thomas and Evan Connell). But it intrigued me even more to hear her case that there is no such thing as truly re-reading: that “every time you read a book, you’re a different person,” approaching the text with the perspective of an older age and different experiences.

Pearl also noted another important category: books better left unread. She remembered assigning Walker Percy’s “The Moviegoer” to a class, years after it had resonated with her, and finding it appealed to no one – including herself. She had to wonder, “What was so meaningful to me at that age that is no longer meaningful to me now?” Certain books and authors (the name Bret Easton Ellis was invoked) are “of their time, and that’s when you should read them, and you should be exactly the right age to read them, otherwise they’re useless.” That reconfirms my resolve not to re-open Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged,” so many years removed from my high school days.

Interested in hearing more of that conversation? Here’s a link to the interview with Pearl on Seattle’s KUOW radio. I’d love to hear which books you’re re-reading, and which ones you’re permanently laying to rest.

Rebekah Denn writes at

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