I know that I shouldn’t do it. I am well aware that I cannot possibly read all the new books that deserve my attention - books that I would enjoy, books that I would remember forever, books that might actually change my life or the way I view the world. And there are more of them published every day.
So why do I want to go back and re-read a bunch of books that I read years, or even decades, ago? Easy. I loved the first experience, or they changed my life, or they changed the way I look at the world.
All I have to do is stand in front of my bookshelves and I see books that call out to me for another chance to have their pages turned and appreciated:
1. Black Boy – Richard Wright – This 1945 memoir (which I discovered during the sixties) made me think about what it was like for Blacks to grow up and live in the Jim Crow South. I remember what it was like to grow up in the South before the Civil Rights era – and this book should have been required reading in those days. I am a different person than when I read this all those decades ago, and maybe, just maybe, this book is part of the reason why.
2. Andersonville – MacKinlay Kantor – This 760-page novel about the infamous Civil War prison camp located just a short drive from Plains, Georgia, humanized that war for me like no other book I’ve read on the subject (and I’ve read dozens and dozens of them). I think it is sad that so many people think of the Civil War as ancient history. Just think about this for a moment: the book was published in 1955, only 90 years after the war ended. Yes, those 1950s.
3. The Prince of Tides – Pat Conroy – I loved this 1986 book so much that I bought paperback copies the next year as Christmas gifts for every person who worked in my department (almost 25 copies, from what I recall). The book turned me into a lifelong Pat Conroy fan.
4. Black Cherry Blues – James Lee Burke – This 1989 Burke novel served as my introduction to Cajun detective, and ex-New Orleans cop, Dave Robicheaux. Finally, someone was writing about the Cajun culture without resulting to cartoonish stereotypes – and Dave Robicheaux was actually a hero, not someone to laugh at…what a concept. I’ve been hooked on the series (this was the third book) ever since, and I greatly admire Mr. Burke.
5. The Longest Walk – George Meegan – This one, from 1988, describes Meegan’s walk of almost seven years, a walk that totaled over 19,000 miles and took him from the southern tip of South America all the way to the northernmost point in Alaska. Meegan’s walk was a great adventure that tested him in every way. It made me into a confirmed hiker for a while and might be exactly what I need to get myself seriously walking again.
This is why I keep my favorites where I can see them and put my hands on them quickly. The few minutes I spent handling them this evening brought back some great memories, both about the books and about who I was when I first read them. I promise myself tonight that I will read them again sometime soon.