Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Top 10 Books I Wish I Could Read Again For the First Time

I've always wanted to do one of these Top Ten Tuesday posts — but since, until recently (launch of Book Riot), I always posted on Mondays, I never did. It's kind of liberating stepping out of your own rigid self-imposed rules, isn't it?

Today's topic is the top ten books you wish you could read again for the first time. I like this idea a lot, because whenever I see someone starting a book I really loved, my first thought is jealousy — that s/he is at the precipice of a really great experience.

So, here we go:

10. Trinity, by Leon Uris — For a good part of my life, this was my answer to the "favorite book of all time" question. It's fallen down the list a little, but I still wish I could be as transfixed by it as I was the first time I read it when I was in college.

9. Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides — With all the buzz about Eugenides' follow-up, I've been reminded how fantastically original Middlesex is.

8. Straight Man, by Richard Russo — This is one of the funniest books I've ever read. If I could start fresh, I'd do a better job of slowing down and appreciating the humor. 

7. The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein — If I had this one to do over, I'd do something really manly right before reading this, so I wouldn't feel so bad about this novel turning me into a blubbering fool.

6. American Pastoral, by Philip Roth — I read this at a point in my life (college) when I couldn't give it the attention it deserved. I'd love to go back and give this the close read it deserves.

5. House of Leaves, by Mark Danielewski — If there's one book I've ever read I wish I could erase from memory to start again fresh, this is it. Some books are good on a reread, but for others (like this one), once their secrets are revealed (and your mind is sufficiently blown), it's no good going back.

4. Everything Is Illuminated, by Jonathan Safran Foer — I had no idea Foer was such a quirky writer when I read this the first time, and therefore was annoyed with this book as much as I enjoyed it. I wish reverse and reread with a better understanding of what I was about to read.

3. White Teeth, by Zadie Smith — It's been so long since she published new fiction, I wish this — her best novel — could be new to me again.

2. A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving — My favorite Irving. Enough said.  

1. Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace — My favorite author's best book? Also a no-brainer...


  1. What a great list -- No. 2 would be on my list, too.

  2. I love your point about slowing down in re-reads -- I don't re-read often, but when I do, I often do it with a note to myself to SLOW DOWN. I already know what happens, so it's not like a race to learn about the plot, right?

  3. If I were an actor, I could cry on demand if I thought about Racing. That would be my ace in the hole. I also loved Middlesex. Owen Meany has been discussed recently about its ending blowing people away. That one is very high on my list.

  4. I have really been wanting to read that Owen Mean book for awhile now...guess I need to! Middlesex is on my shelf at home so I will probably read that one first. LOVED Racing in the Rain!

  5. I wish I could read Infinite Jest again so that maybe I could understand it. I think I was too young the first time around to properly appreciate it.
    I enjoyed The Art of Racing in the Rain, but if I read it again for the first time I'd probably cry even more.
    I still have not read Middlesex *shame*

  6. Hmmm. House of Leaves, eh? For a long, long time I had a copy of that on my TBR shelf. I finally decided I'd never get around to reading it and gave it away! Perhaps I should look around for another copy.

    Here's my Top Ten for this week. Hope you'll stop by!

  7. I know what you mean about House of Leaves. There are some books that once you read, going back and re-reading just isn't possible.

    I'm glad you're able to participate in this meme. They usually post the topics way in advance, so maybe it's something you can work into your schedule.

    Happy reading!

  8. Mmm Everything is Illuminated and Middlesex would be great picks for this. What an interesting question!

  9. I had Middlesex on my list as well. I love your comment about The Art of Racing in the Rain! I also was a blubbering mess towards the end of that one.

  10. I completely agree about both House of Leaves and Owen Meany. Unbelievably good books that build to such powerful conclusions. For me I would also add Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game, only because I can never reread that book the same way now that I know the ending. Great idea for a list--I'll have to go back to the bookshelves . . .

  11. I wish I could read Infinite Jest for the first time again, too. This is a great list, and I added a few to my wish list that I haven't read before. So far, The World According to Garp is my favorite of Irving's, so I'm really looking forward to Owen Many to see how it measures up for me.

  12. Glad to see you participating this week. Great list. Although I see your position on House of Leaves, I've always been compelled to reread it for some reason.

    Come visit my list at The Scarlet Letter.

  13. I agree about Middlesex! Most of the other books on your list I have yet to read for the first time!

  14. Hmm..I just can't agree with Infinite Jest or Everything is Illuminated, but have carried the effect of Trinity through decades so cut you some slack ;-) I also thought A Prayer for Owen Meany is Irving's best - and has one of the best

    Already have Middlesex on my TBR list at your recommendation, and am going to add The Art of Racing & Straight Man.

    Hey - thanks for the tips!

  15. @Richard - Thanks, and yeah, Owen Meany is such a phenomenal novel!

    @Kerry - I don't re-read often either (hardly at all), but just like a movie, it's amazing how much more you catch the second time through - because you DO already know what's going to happen.

    @Sandy - Ha - great point about Racing. The ending of Owen Meany blew me away too. I wish I could erase it totally and experience what I experienced when I read that again. It was amazing!

    @Jo-Jo - Owen Meany and Middlesex are both phenomenal - can't go wrong either way.

    @Suzanne - I think I understood Infinite Jest, but I know I missed a ton. So many connections, so many jokes, such a brilliant novel!

    @Deb - You should! It's one of the few novels that really blew me away with its inventiveness.

    @coachpotatocritic - Agreed - some books are made better by a reread, but many are good enough with your first impression of it that to reread might be to ruin that first amazing experience.

  16. @Pam - Yeah, I agree - it's a great question. I spent a lot of time in front of my bookshelf making my picks for this. It really isn't just "favorite books."

    @1girl2manybooks - Good thing I was home alone when I finished that - my GF would've been dying laughing at me.

    @Sam - Yeah, even with the Owen Meany conclusion, I'd still like to read it a second time, actually - finding more details that build up to that carefully orchestrated finale. Brilliant writing! But, it'd be just as fun to have that experience of reading it for the first time all over again, 'cause it was pretty amazing. Thanks for the recommendation - I'll check out Card Ender's Game.

    @Heather - The World According to Garp is fantastic, too - but I think I actually like A Widow For One Year more than that one. Garp would be #3, and Cider House Rules #4. Can't wait to hear what you think about Owen Meany!

    @LBC - I certainly understand the folks who'd want to reread it - I'm sure, like Infinite Jes, there's a lot to catch!

    @reviewsbylola - Middlesex was so sprawling, it'd be fun knowing what I know now about how long it'd take Eugenides to write another book, that I'd go much slower and savor it more!

    @Debbie - You mean, you can't agree that EII and Infinite Jest are good books? I should probably not say anything else in response, as it may come across vicious. ;) At least we agree on Trinity!

  17. I've been lurking around too much, but can I say how much I love this meme's topic? I've thought too many times, "Dammit, it won't be the same!" The rereading has its rewards, yes, but the impossibility of reading something for the first time once more--dayum, that's the stuff of poetry.

    That said, yes, House of Leaves. The first time scared me bleepless, awed me with how intricate it was. I did tell myself I'd reread it, but although I know I'd find more Easter Eggs the second time around, I would actually understand some aspects more, that's what I would miss--that I was as lost as most of the characters in this ridiculously awesome novel. This wouldn't be a puzzle anymore, no creepy ride into the creepier unknown--the strongest affect of the book, methinks. If I do get around to reading this, I'm sure I wouldn't scream in terror as much. [What a strange thing to wish for, haha.]

  18. I absolutely destest Foer's quirky style, bleh. Also, I have a copy of Middlesex and I know I'll love it, so I'm putting off reading it because I already don't want it to be over with, haha.

  19. Greg - thank you for posting this list.

    Since Wallace is your favorite author, any recommendations you might have for my 18 year old son? Infinite Jest is is favorite book and he has devoured most of Wallace's work. He asked me for suggestions for who to read next and I am stumped. He tried Murakami and thought he was good but not great.

    Thanks in advance.


  20. Greg, I love your list. I haven't heard of any of the titles - guess we read in different circles you and I - but they have my curiosity piqued for next year's reads.

    Come and have a look at my list


  21. Sorry I'm so late in responding...

    @Sasha - Thanks for the comment! You're absolutely right - other than being intellectually terrifying, the signature mark of House of Leaves is its intricacy. Just floored by how that all came together and how inventive it is.

    @IngridLola - Ha - I think you're in the minority regarding JS Foer, but it's certainly a sentiment I've heard once or twice. And I hear you on Middlesex! That's actually why I put off Infinite Jest for so long - ah, the anticipation...

    @pburt - He might like Thomas Pynchon - I really struggled with Gravity's Rainbow, but some of his more recent stuff (Mason and Dixon or Against The Day) might be closely DFW-esque.

    @Mozette - I've read two on your list - Fahrenheit 451 and The Stand, and certainly agree with you on both of those!

  22. Wow! I so agree with you that Owen Meany is Irving's best book.
    And Irving is one of my fave authors ever.

  23. Thanks Greg - I also struggle with Gravity's rainbow. I forwarded your suggestion on to my son.