For the record, Punxsutawney Phil didn't see his shadow today (Feb 2nd, for those who are reading this late), which means that we'll have an early spring.
In honor of Groundhog Day, here's a list of books that the Amazon editors are given to reading and re-reading-- whether on purpose or, at least in one case, by mistake.
I'm generally not given to re-reading "“ there's always another bus to catch "“ but sometimes re-reading is given to me in the form of a book I didn't realize I'd read until I was half way into it again. The last time I remember this happening was with Persian Nights, a wonderful novel from Diane Johnson, who got the most attention for a later book, Le Divorce. Having loved Le Divorce, I set out to read Johnson's backlist "“ but it wasn't until I was about 100 pages into the earlier novel about a western woman suddenly transplanted to war-torn Iran (and this was published in 1998!) that some far off bell had started to ring. I KNEW there was something about Le Divorce that seemed familiar "“ the fish out of water, the witty observances of cultural differences, this time between Americans and French "“ but I soon started to see why: Johnson was a genius at this stuff, whatever the locales.
I read The Passion by Jeanette Winterson every summer, probably because I'd rather be in Venice where much of the book takes place. And Winterson's skilled pen will transport you there, and to the brutal battlefields of Russia during the Napoleonic Wars. These settings could not be more different, nor the two main characters"”a humble soldier/cook, and the webbed-footed daughter of a Venetian boatman"”and yet their destinies are inextricably linked. Unsurprisingly The Passion explores love in all its forms, but mostly the unrequited variety. What can I say? I'm a repeat wallower.
Hunter S. Thompson's oversized personality often obscured his prodigious, well-honed talent as a writer and social commentator. The Proud Highway, strips away much of the Fear and Loathing-style antics, collecting his personal correspondence--seemingly all of it, and he was a prolific letter writer--between high school and the publication of Hell's Angels, including Menckenesque screeds to LBJ, Norman Mailer, and William Styron. Incisive, direct, funny, and manageable in small doses. You won't need much, just a tiny taste.
Recently I was reading aloud to my daughter one of my favorite books from childhood, The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander. I realized as I was relating the adventures of Taran the Assistant Pig-Keeper that every chapter, every sentence, and every word was so familiar that I must have read this book more than a dozen times when I was her age. Reading it again reawakened the magic of being a child who wants to believe in wizards, prophetic pigs, secret parentage (yes, there were years where I hoped I was adopted because it meant I could be a young sorceress in disguise), and tomboy princesses.
In college all my reading time was consumed with classics by Chaucer and Virginia Woolf or psychology textbooks, but sometimes I just needed to turn my brain off and read something I didn't need to think about. For me, this was Stephen King's The Stand. I'd read it in its abridged form when it first came out, then again in the giant unabridged edition, not once but a few times, to the point where I could just open the book randomly and read. It might seem like a strange choice for relaxation"”a book full of crazy characters and plague--but for me it was Groundhog Day reading of the very best kind"¦
I tend to load a lot of free, or almost free, books onto my Kindle. Books like Kidnapped and Treasure Island. I'll read these, but it takes me forever, like a year, because I only pick them up in the middle of the night on the rare occasion when I can't sleep and can't think of anything new to read. But recently I bought an old book that didn't fall into the "free or almost free category." It was Solo Faces by James Salter, and I hadn't read it in years. I flew through that novel about a young American climbing in the Alps, and it was a very different read from the one I'd had twenty years ago. The writing was more spare than I remembered--clearly my emotional young self filled in a lot of the blanks when I first read it--and it was better than I remembered, too.
Now here's some more Groundhog Day material for you...