top of page

Tell Me What You ReRead

A stack of books sits on a gray table in front of a white wall. The spines are turned away from the camera; we can see the bottoms of the books and their thickness only.

I set out to share a list of all the books I borrowed from the library this year, with brief commentary on the ones I actually read. It seemed the “new year” thing to do.

(I am a firm believer in the generous checkout policies at libraries. You really should take all 17 of those books you’re carrying home with you — what if you only choose two and both are duds? I like a variety and more than one “backup” book in case the cover was misleading.)

((I do judge a book by its cover. You can keep your opinions to yourself.))

But then I came across this quote by Mauriac, a French novelist, dramatist, poet, and critic who is new to me:

“Tell me what you read and I’ll tell you who you are is true enough, but I’d know you better if you told me what you reread.” Francois Mauriac

And this idea of sharing the things I reread, the things I can’t stop thinking about, feels more relevant than just reciting my library card history.

It feels especially relevant because I’m not a re-reader. I remember most books I’ve perused with clarity and don’t often feel like revisiting them. (Whereas I have movie amnesia and will watch the same movie three times before I realize I’ve already seen it.)

So beyond 2022, looking across my bookshelves and time, here are the books I live by and a note about each:

(Aside: I’m linking each to because local and small bookstores need our support more than you-know-who.)

  1. The Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe, by Michael S. Schneider This simple book turned my perception of the world upside down. Michael takes us from zero to ten, exploring the symbolism and relationships of primary numbers. I cannot unsee the things I learned, and I can’t tell you how many ways his book comes up in my world: creatively, in conversation, in nature, drawing connections and spurring lateral thinking. It’s enchanting!

  2. Emergent Strategy, by adrienne maree brown adrienne tugs on a lot of strings that Beginner’s Guide points to as well. The piece I think of often asks why our society is infatuated with the alpha [fill in the blank]. She points out that alphas often work the hardest to survive; where by contrast small, interconnected, resilient communities of things very often flourish. She talks about tactics, but she also shares stories and lines of thought that brought a lot of information I’d been gathering into clarity. New annual reread.

  3. Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer Each chapter in Sweetgrass is a loving hand firmly cinching up your ties to Earth, to this existence. It’s a tethering exploration of the world around us that feels like a prayer and exultation at the same time. Pair it with Mary Oliver, and you run the danger of quitting your job to live happily in the woods for the rest of your life.

  4. This Is It, by Alan Watts Alan’s tiny volume is an interesting contrast to Sweetgrass — he can read bleakly at times. But I find his realism and practicality to be refreshing, and come back to specific essays over and over, sort of like we go for annual physicals — just to make sure I’m remembering the basics of living well.

  5. The Hero & the Crown and The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley Read these two books in any order you like — they’re interchangeable and inextricable. Robin is a masterful fantasist (I’ve read all her novels), but these two are (in my humble opinion) her gift to us. She invents a place so tangible you almost remember it, with two heroines so believable you’re certain you’ve met them. And the stories — well, I won’t ruin them for you, but there’s such a perfect touch of the Tarot and D&D in there… I reread them especially when I’m sick. They feel like home.

  6. Night Circus and The Starless Sea, by Erin Morgenstern These two don’t work the way Robin’s books do; they are individually spun tales. Erin also manages to create worlds that are just on the edges of possibility, so close you can smell them, but magic enough you can only visit in your dreams. They read like a beautiful song you heard once long ago.

  7. The Inheritance Trilogy, by NK Jemisin Ok, first off — if you haven’t heard of NK Jemisin, hie thee to a bookstore and buy anything of hers. Maybe start with “How Long ‘Til Black Future Month,” an anthology, so you can get a sense for her breadth and vision. And don’t forget the Dreamblood Duology or “The City We Became.” But my return read is The Inheritance Trilogy. NK plays with a trio of gods and their machinations and the ripple effects on their subjects. It’s so so good. (I could write a whole essay on her world-building skills.)

  8. The Essential Aurobindo, translated by Robert McDermott I found this volume through a thread in Beginner’s Guide (#1 above), and borrowed it from the library about eleventy-seven times before I finally bought a copy. It bears owning because it is dense and wide and rewards the reader who is willing to chew on it. I now keep a journal open next to me as I’m reading. Sri Aurobindo Ghose was an Indian philosopher at the culmination of the 19th century, and his theses make a lot of sense — he covers man, why man exists, what man strives for, and how we fit into the broader picture of the Universe.

  9. Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman Look, if the Apocalypse is gonna happen, it better bloody follow Neil and Terry’s model. I cannot get enough of the plot twists and the Britishisms, the sarcasm and the lore. And having a confused little witch at the center of it all makes me happy. Regular reread for me. (I hear it’s particularly enjoyable in the bath.)

  10. The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran I keep an extra copy of this book because it always seems to be the just-right gift for someone I know. It’s not a sit-down-and-read read. It’s more like an index of life advice to consult when things come up. A friendship is struggling — what does Gibran say? I’m so sad — revisit On Joy and Sorrow. It’s a kind little volume, and a dear old friend.

I’m accidentally pleased that the list came out to ten. It fits with what I learned in Beginner’s Guide — but you’ll have to find that bit for yourself. Do you know me better now, friend? What books do you reread? I’d love to hear in the comments.


bottom of page