Elisa Saphier is a lifelong lover of reading and believes that books save lives (literally,not figuratively, although that too). To save her own life (figuratively, not literally, although that too), and because she was cut off from bringing more books and bookshelves home, she opened her own used bookshop in August 2012. Another Read Through, Elisa, her wife, and son, all live in Portland, OR. Learn more on her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
I am not an organized person. I can’t find important papers or bills, the “safe place” I stash something so I can be absolutely sure that I will be able to find it in the future remains a mystery for many valuable and now lost things. I misplace my memories as well, and can’t remember much of my happy (really! It was!) childhood or details about the beginning of (or let’s be honest, the recent parts of) my relationship with my wife. But I can tell you with about 95% accuracy if I have a book you request out of my shop’s 26,000+ title inventory, and whether what we have is hardback or paperback.
If I find free time, I could spend most of it sitting in front of my bookshelves at home, organizing and reorganizing my 1000+ book stash (which is already perfectly well organized) instead of searching for those lost mementos. All of this is to say – I love books, and my life is, in a way, organized around them. I have little place in my head for much else, to the amused annoyance of, well, most people in my life (until they want book recommendations).
I have a list of books to be read that is 10 years and more than 800 books long. And I read them, compulsively, in order; excepting books for book clubs (of which I’m always in 2 or 3), I haven’t read a book published after 2005. (I’m approaching 2006 in my list.)
So what is by my bed will not be a new release. It’s not even a recent release. I can tell you that I recently finished Wicked, by Gregory Maguire, because about 10 years ago I saw the play and had to “immediately” read the book. I can tell you that I’ll be reading Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs as soon as I finish the books for book clubs this month. But because my list means I read a little differently than most, I’d rather tell you what I’m always rereading, what I can’t stop coming back to.
I first read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale around 1992 and have read it at least 7 more times since. I’ve read this book more than any other and I will, in some way, always be reading this book. It made me a feminist; it made me aware of the world; it made me realize that an author doesn’t have to choose between writing a book that matters or a book that is good. The Handmaid’s Tale is everything I want a book to be – great writing, captivating story with characters I want to know more about and pacing that is perfect, a platform for a social issue, and a clarion call to do something about that issue. It made me realize what is possible in literature, and it does this every time I read it.
People who know me aren’t surprised that I love The Handmaid’s Tale to such distraction. But they are always pretty shocked to find that the other book that I reread often (maybe 5 times now, with another planned in the very near future) and love about equally is Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, which is so incredibly different in just about every way from Atwood’s book.
I couldn’t disagree more with Rand’s politics, but I love everything about this book. The writing isn’t lyrical, but it’s beautiful in its precision. My copy of this book is about 750 pages of tiny print and still, every time I show someone the wonderful first few sentences, I have trouble putting it down again. I can’t get enough of her message about the media and its influence and manipulation. Her Peter Keating is simply one of the best written characters in all of literature; he is so purely and so perfectly drawn.
A book that I read for the first time late last year, and so needs more time to solidify its position, but that I think will be another that I return to again and again, is Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. This is a book that raises more questions than it answers as you read, and the way you answer those questions completely changes your reading of the book. It makes me want to read it over and over again, with different answers to each of those questions in mind. There are so many combinations of questions and answers, and therefore interpretations, that I might never stop reading this one, too.
Certainly I’ll never stop reading – whether it’s something new (to me) or a reread of the ones I can’t stop myself from reading again. My list is too long for that.
Are you a re-reader? Come on, fess up. What are your literary obsessions?