Revisiting a Favorite Book, Again and Again

I love used book sales. When I lived on the Upper West Side, I used to stock up on books at the St. Agnes branch of the New York Public Library’s used book sales, which they held several times a year. Probably a good number of my books come from those sales.

So when I heard about the College Women’s Club used book sale last weekend, I shuffled my oldest child into the car and off we went.

We picked up two books for him, and a couple for his baby sister at home. Even though I have virtually zero time for reading these days (or anything else), I wanted to pick up a few books for myself, hoping that sometime in the next few months—or years—I will get to them.

Searching through the stacks of books, I nearly squealed in delight when I came across Bernard Malamud’s “The Assistant.” Now I already have a copy of “The Assistant” and have read it many times. But this one was a different size, and had a different copyright date and cover. And it is a book I love so much I just had to have another copy (plus, it was only a dollar).

The Assistant” is a book I return to again and again. I cannot adequately describe the beauty of the book (I leave that to the book critics), but I will tell you that it is a deeply moving story of a struggling Jewish shopkeeper in post-war Brooklyn and a young Gentile drifter who comes to help him (for not such noble reasons…but that’s all I will give away).

I return to the book when I have tried reading others that I cannot finish for whatever reason. I return to it when I haven’t read it in a while, simply because I miss it and I know it will not disappoint. It is like an old friend I haven’t seen in a while, but with whom I can talk for hours.

The Assistant” is what you might call my “go-to” book. (My second go-to book is “Gone with the Wind.” I have two copies of that one, too.)

What is your go-to book? Sing its praises in the comments below.


Photo from Anika Malone’s flickr

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  1. I used to have a thing for “Jane Eyre.” Read it several times. Lately, it’s “Bossypants” by Tina Fey. That’s where my mind is at. I need a good laugh and an easy read.

  2. It’s a little embarrassing, but whenever I used to feel stressed, I’d pick up a copy of one of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series (you know, with dragons) to read. After an hour or so of reading (because that’s all it takes to finish one), I’d feel like I had been on vacation. I still have a few beat-up copies upstairs, just in case.

    When I was still teaching high school, I always read *Small Victories* by Samuel Freedman before the school year began. It got me through at least half the year on its optimism and inspiration. I still have that one too, just in case.

  3. Evening, by Susan Minot. It’s about a woman who is dying and revisiting (in her mind) the first love of her life. It’s just a gorgeous, tender book, beautifully written and so moving. It says a lot about life.

  4. Ooh, Kristin! I used to love those Dragonrider books!

    Some of my all-time faves:

    Lord of the Rings – I have a big paperback that includes all three.
    Chronicles of Narnia. I’m such a baby that I’m usually weeping by the end of The Last Battle.
    All the Madeleine L’Engle books (Wrinkle, Austins, etc.)
    I have re-read the last Harry Potter book at least 4 times now.
    Wheel of Time series by (the late) Robert Jordan.
    A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. Funny stuff.
    The Moonstone and The Woman in White; both by Wilkie Collins.

    Not counting the gardening tomes that have a hundred little sticky notes flapping out their sides, or the Bungalow/Arts & Crafts coffee table books that I get out and drool over once in a while…

    Unfortunately (?) I have 3 big stuffed bookshelves now, plus there’s a box in the attic (pretty sure my copy of Watership Down is up there, among others … !) I say unfortunately because I really can’t bear to part with any of them. And the kids are taking after me in that regard. Quite possibly a fire hazard.

  5. God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut. An offbeat story of (what is now known as) a One Percenter who goes insane -or does he?. I must have read this 30 times & it never gets old.

  6. Kay are you walking around in my head? Ditto for many of your choices. There aren’t too many of my lady friends who’ve attempted The Wheel of Time series.

  7. Kay check out Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth books. Start with the first and go to the end. Based on your choices you’ll have many hours of fun.

  8. Miss Dag, we must be kindred spirits! Perhaps you are actually my Favoritest Teacher in Montclair, She Who Knows Who She Is, in disguise …?? hmmmm…

    Anyway when I looked up your (and raeven’s) suggestions, I came across a bunch of others that I also loved… Ray Bradbury… Frank Herbert… one of my newer faves, “House of the Scorpion” by Nancy Farmer (thanks to my kids’ middle school teachers!) … The Death Gate Cycle by Weis/Hickman (never owned them, just borrowed from the library. Gonna have to go get them again, now, since it’s been a while…)

  9. I have several: The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald), Sons and Lovers (Lawrence), Death Comes to the Archbishop (Cather), Washington Square (James), The Dubliners (Joyce). I’ve read each of them dozens of times.

  10. I love and have re-read many of the books above, but my go-to re-read is anything by Jane Austen. It always transports me to a gentler world.

  11. I have to read Robertson Davies Deptford Trilogy about once a decade. I also love Edith Wharton and have organized a pop-up book group for a discussion of “House of Mirth” on Wed Dec 14 at Trend Coffee House. All are welcome:

  12. Fun idea for a post! Looking forward to checking out some of the recommendations.

    Kristin (and all dragon lovers) – I too love the Pern series. i haven’t been able to get into the ones she writes with her son, but i do love rereading the original series. I’ve also read harry potter countless times – i am constantly amazed by how few “continuity” errors Rowling made (at least that i can catch) and things she planted in earlier books that she followed up with (like 3-lines in the 6th? book where Mundungus Fletcher selling Abelforth the piece of the magical mirror that Syrius shared with Harry)

    A book for me that provides that “calming” sense is Starhawks The 5th Sacred Thing. It’s a fantasy/utopia novel (somewhat two dimensional as these books often are) that manages to provide a wonderful escape into a world i wish existed.

    Not to be a downer, but I couldn’t complete the Wheel of Time series. I loved the first half of the series but couldn’t keep up as he introduced more and more characters and spent less time with the core. Maybe Kay can give me the summary of how it ends 🙂

    For those who liked the Sword of Truth series (Another one i loved initially but got frustrated with all the “Ayn Rand” proselytizing), he just wrote a new book “The Omen Machine” that is starting a new series with the same characters.

    For humor, I love David Sedaris and read his books/listen to his audiobooks (especially the earlier ones) over and over.

  13. Thomas Merton’s “The Seven Storey Mountain”
    Will Campbell’s “Brother to a Dragonfly”
    Virgil’s “Aeneid”
    C.S. Lewis’ “Surprised by Joy” and “Reflections on the Psalms” and “That Hideous Strength”

  14. Deal, Roo! Obels at 8:00. I’ll be the 27 year old 5′-9″ perfectly formed blonde in the Guy Fawkes mask.

  15. I also have re-read “The Namesake” and all of Jhumpa Lahiri books. Love her writing and Indian culture.

  16. Every year when I visit my parents in Minnesota, I re-read Little House in the Big Woods. And Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. Very weird mix.

  17. Crime and Punishment, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, Angela’s Ashes and anything by Nin, Colette, Dickens and Twain. It’s like trying to pick one favorite song! Impossible!

  18. I think I’ve read A Heartbreking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers, at least six times over the past ten years. And I try to read Walden every year, too.

  19. I tried to reread Walden a few years ago, and it struck me what a pretentious ass Thoreau was. Yeah, I know, I loved it when I read it a hundred years ago, but it didn’t stand the test of time with me. Perhaps I’ve been ruined by Twitter etc.

  20. W/roo…..We’ve been ruined by life and the hollowing out of our culture, the incessant need for love like a character on a reality show….A hundred years ago their was still plenty of mystery in your life, you could view the constellations with the naked eye, stare at a painting for hours, believe…..believe in something grander than your 401K, the housing market, the horseless carriage. You could swim in your pond, drink it’s water and not worry about a “Fracking” thing.
    The purity of life is gone, Memnon rules now. You have been shackled, now go forth and conquer for the man, don’t look back, keep moving forward into this new century…. then a hundred years from now you’ll be sitting at your console dreaming how pure life was then and how ruined it is now.
    I’m going now for a dip in my pond, lights out, head pillow dreams of the deep beautiful mysterious world somewhere in the night.
    Catch you up in the anti meridian!

  21. You are good company, PAZ. If I were to bum across country hopping freight trains, I can’t think of anyone I would rather share my wine bottle with.

  22. “Giving Good Weight,” a collection of five essays by John McPhee that appeared in The New Yorker in the 70’s. The title piece is about the NYC Greenmarkets and the farmers that sold their goods there back then. Another, “Brigade de Cuisine,” is still the most definitive description of a great cook/chef I have ever read, and it totally scrapes away any glamour about running your own restaurant, no matter how good the food might be. McPhee writes some of the best declarative prose in American English; reading these pieces, for me, is like gorging on comfort food for the mind, so I do it over and over again.

  23. And as for Henry David Thoreau, ‘roo, put Walden Pond down and read Civil Disobedience instead. If old Henry were alive today, you just know he would be occupying Wall Street. He was a lousy guitar player, though, so his music never really caught on…

  24. Thanks Conan, but I don’t need to reread Civ Dis. I remember it clearly. If Thoreau were alive today he’d probably be off protesting somewhere by himself a cause that nobody else cared about or could understand even if they did. I doubt he would be moving with a herd, nor have a following himself. Thoreau was a bona fide weirdo. By comparison, Sheldon on Big Bang Theory looks like a charming extrovert. If you sat next to Thoreau on DeCamp you would’ve buried your face in the newspaper and tried not to make eye contact.

  25. @hf12 it took a few of Goodkind’s book before I realized his sense of life reflected Rand’s. I found them after a friend recommended them as a grown up Harry Potter series. Magic rules!

    For the record I’ve been known to read “Atlas Shrugged” more than once. It’s a very different read with years of life’s ups and downs in mind.

  26. Dag T…..Atlas stopped shrugging. I think he’s taking up Bocce. I’m writing a new environmental order book called “In search of a Pallino.”

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