I often wonder if I am the only one who systematically rereads books. I’m frequently digging through the paperbacks lining our bookshelves in the basement – and stuffed in drawers of various kinds – to find that one gem that I’d like to enjoy reading again. I do the same for movies, tv series, and old magazines, too. But while I will watch something on Netflix once again at any time of year (much to my husband’s amazement), I find that I’m partial to revisiting books during the summer months especially. I don’t know if it’s a desire to ‘relax’ and intentionally not learn something new – give my brain a needed rest during the lazy days of summer – or simply a desire to squeeze out some new inspiration, new idea, new feelings of entertainment or joy out of books that I know are a ‘sure thing.’ While Nabokov, the novelist quoted above, might say it’s the latter – that we learn more from a book the second, third, and fourth time around – all I can say for certain is that when I read a book I’ve once loved before, I know that I will be returning to a very happy place where I can sit back and enjoy the experience just one more time.
Each summer I normally have a different line-up of books, depending on my mood and state of mind. While historical fiction tends to be a standard somewhere in the mix, what I found this year was a desire to read books with a strong female protagonist (and coincidentally, all written by women). Not sure why, but I’ve been craving strong, positive female role models in my life and, subsequently, in the world of fiction, too. And, well, who doesn’t love a good romance or two, or three, in the mix 😉 ?
If you are looking for some good book ideas right now, why not give my top 6 books to reread this summer a try? Here they are, in no particular order:
#1 Gone with the Wind (by Margaret Mitchell)
This is one of my all-time favourite epic novels to read. Set in the Old South during the American Civil War and Reconstruction period, the story revolves around Scarlet O’Hara, the spoiled, but beautiful daughter of a wealthy plantation owner. She is the kind of young woman who gets what she wants, however she wants, and her manipulative ways and independent “unladylike” spirit are central to her character and story. After losing her wealth during the War, she slowly learns to channel her spirit of independence into something just a little more noble: courage and bravery in the face of starvation and near-death. She becomes a pillar for her family and the community, but not without its trouble, including her complicated relationship with the irrepressible and oh-so-hilarious, Rhett Butler, who never fails to put her in her place!
This is a must-read for anyone who loves historical fiction, complicated romantic plots, ever-evolving character development and an epic – and I do mean epic – storyline (my copy of the book is 1,024 pages!). But I’ve loved every page of it!
If the story sounds intriguing, but you don’t know if you have the time to read a book that long, why not watch the movie! While a movie is never quite the same, I can tell you that it’s true to the book and worth seeing.
#2 Pride and Prejudice (by Jane Austen)
Still a classic 200 years later, Pride and Prejudice is a great read for those who love witty dialogue and even wittier observations about social mores and manners, love and marriage, and gender roles and expectations all set in English society in the early 19th century. The novel’s well-known story revolves around the unlikely romantic pairing of the fun-loving and opinionated Elizabeth Bennet and arrogant, but not unkind, Mr Darcy. Elizabeth, the second daughter of five sisters of a country gentleman, captures the attention of the wealthy and status-conscious Mr Darcy. The social and class divisions in English society at that time sets the stage for their encounters comprised primarily of clashing opinions, which prevent the two romantic leads from seeing what we do: that they were made for one another! An altogether fun read populated with quirky and, often, silly and ridiculous characters that make for some interesting twists and turns in an entertaining romantic storyline.
With a novel this popular for so long, it is no wonder that the story has been adapted to the big screen several times, in various countries, but my favourites remain the versions from 1940 (starring Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier), 1995 (BBC mini-series that made Colin Firth a household name) and 2005 (starring Keira Knightley and Matthew McFadyen).
#3 Jane Eyre (by Charlotte Bronte)
Another English classic, Jane Eyre – which I am currently reading (and loving again!) – is the story of an orphaned girl who, after being abandoned to a charitable institution by her abusive aunt at the age of ten, manages to grow into a well-mannered, educated, if inexperienced, young woman who accepts a position as governess under the employment of the wealthy and world-weary Mr Rochester. Unlike Pride and Prejudice, which is light and fun, Jane Eyre exudes a darker and more realistic tone and perspective on the lives of unmarried women in mid-19th century England. The character of Jane Eyre, her inner thoughts, passions, and critical assessments of English society and gender roles are interesting and really stand out in this atypical romance. As different as she and Mr Rochester are in manner – she being quiet and conscious of her moral obligations and Christian upbringing and he seeking life’s pleasures after years of being taken advantage of in both life and love – it is clear that there is a meeting of the minds taking place. And like any good romantic story, trouble pulls these two apart, making for interesting plot twists that keep this story a fascinating read not only about love in 19th century England, but of class, gender and religion. Love this novel!
#4 Anne of the Island (by LM Montgomery)
Oh, the beloved character of Anne Shirley of the ‘Anne of Green Gables’ series! I fell in love with this heroin as a 10-year-old girl and have been rereading this six-book series about her ever since. But in keeping with my romantic novel streak, it is the third book, Anne of the Island that, if you’ve read the first two, is a must-read follow-up. Set in the late 19th century, Anne, the red-headed orphan girl adopted by the aging & unmarried brother and sister pair of Matthew and Marilla, is a talkative bookworm, constantly getting herself into scrapes, but with big dreams of becoming a published author. In this book, Anne turns 18 and, as her friends marry and have babies, she pursues higher education away from her home of Prince Edward Island. Although some of her old friends join her, including her ‘chum’ Gilbert Blythe – who has loved Anne since childhood – Anne makes new acquaintances and, subsequently, embarks on new adventures and plot twists that include marriage proposals from the unlikeliest sources and a courtship with her ‘ideal’ man who may not be quite what she hoped or expected. Oh, how the plot thickens!
Like the first three books on this list, the story of the high-spirited Anne Shirley has been adapted to the small screen, most famously in the CBC series that first aired in 1985. Another must-see 🙂
#5 Possession (by AS Byatt)
Perhaps not as well-known as the previous novels, but certainly a modern-day classic that received international praise and literary awards, Possession – also made into a movie! – is the story of two young academics, Roland and Maud, who are researching the story of two 19th century poets. As they delve through the archives of the books, letters, and poems of these poets, the two researchers become close. As they fall for each other, they become obsessed with pursuing the ‘real’ story behind the complicated and little-known connection between their Victorian subjects. Tracking down clues in local and distant archives, Roland and Maud begin to piece together a picture that has unexpected outcomes not only for their research, but for their relationship.
This is most definitely a high adventure, fast-paced mystery wrapped in a love story with plenty of twists and turns along the way. A great read that you just cannot put down – I remember experiencing a couple of sleepless nights over it! The movie based on this book is not nearly as entertaining as the book itself. Byatt is an incredibly gifted writer and Possession, one of her most acclaimed works.
#6 To Kill a Mockingbird (by Harper Lee)
With the recent publication of author Harper Lee’s controversial novel, Go Set a Watchman, I’ve been thinking of rereading her first book, To Kill a Mockingbird as a refresher first – it’s been a while since my last ‘rereading.’ Not the romantic novel of the first 5 on this list, but a must-read, nonetheless. TKM is considered an American classic by most and, rightly so. The novel, about prejudice, violence and race relations in a small town in the Deep South of the 1930’s, revolves around the main character nicknamed ‘Scout,’ an inquisitive six-year-old ‘tom-boy.’ Scout is the daughter of respected lawyer Atticus Finch, who defends a black man named Tom Robinson charged with raping a white woman. Lee’s novel, told through the memories of an adult Scout, is full of wit and humour and a keen sense of how prejudice and hypocrisy can infect the perceptions of even the most rational adults. A wonderfully-written, emotionally-charged book that makes you root for Scout’s father Atticus as he takes on impossible odds.
Like the novels above, To Kill a Mockingbird was made into a movie by the same name in 1962 starring Gregory Peck as Atticus – a must-see!
So there’s my list of top 6 books to reread this summer. I’ve already started the list and hope to complete it by September. How about you? Are any one of these books in your top list of rereads? What are your favourite books to revisit? I’d love to hear your suggestions. I’m always looking to add books to my reading (and rereading) lists!
Book cover images source: amazon.ca