I absolutely love reading. I have two Master’s in Literature so it is fair to say I have read a lot of books over the years. And yet, in this past year I have read none. Zero books. Nada. Most books, even great books, I will just read once but there are a few I have read over and over again. When I have a period were I don’t read for whatever reason it is usually one of these reliable, comfortable reads that I will re-read in order to start reading again. There are a fair few of them but today I thought I would share with you the first five that popped into my head.
The Hobbit, or There and Back Again is achildren’s fantasy novel by English author J. R. R. Tolkien. It was published on 21 September 1937 to wide critical acclaim. The Hobbit is set in a time “between the Dawn of Færie and the Dominion of Men”, and follows the quest of home-loving hobbit Bilbo Baggins to win a share of the treasure guarded by Smaug the dragon. Bilbo’s journey takes him from light-hearted, rural surroundings into more sinister territory. There is a band of dwarves, a wizard and of course the dragon.
This was the first proper book in read over and over again. I actually listened to it before I read it myself as we had a wonderful BBC radio version that we listened to as a family in the run up to Christmas every year in the evenings. I think there were about 5 cassettes and most years we would only make it to cassette number four but some years we made it through. I have it now on dvd and will do the same with the kids. Actually before listening to it on cassette as a kid, my Dad had read it to my Mum/her bump whilst I was in her tummy so it really is the book I have been rereading the longest.
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, relates the adventures of an eccentric family, the Mortmains, struggling to live in genteel poverty in a decaying castle during the 1930s. The first person narrator is Cassandra Mortmain, an intelligent teenager who tells the story through her journal. It is a coming-of-age story in which Cassandra passes from being a girl at the beginning to being a young woman at the end.
I first read this book aged about 14 and I just fell in love with the romance of the whole thing. Who doesn’t dream of living in a castle, swimming the mote and meeting dashing brothers. Add to that the fact that the costuming is absolutely stunning and our narrator is intelligent and elegant with her use of language, and you’ve got a book I still enjoy now, over one and a half decades later.
The Woman in White is Wilkie Collins’ fifth published novel, written in 1859. It is considered to be among the first mystery novels and is widely regarded as one of the first (and finest) in the genre of “sensation novels”.
Walter Hartright, a young art teacher, encounters and gives directions to a mysterious and distressed woman dressed entirely in white, lost in London; he is later informed by policemen that she has escaped from an asylum. Soon afterward, he travels to Limmeridge House in Cumberland, having been hired as a drawing master on the recommendation of his friend, Pesca, an Italian language master. The Limmeridge household comprises the invalid Frederick Fairlie, and Walter’s students: Laura Fairlie, Mr. Fairlie’s niece, and Marian Halcombe, her devoted half-sister. Walter realizes that Laura bears an astonishing resemblance to the woman in white, who is known to the household by the name of Anne Catherick: a mentally disabled child who formerly lived near Limmeridge, and was devoted to Laura’s mother, who first dressed her in white. The rest of the plot is equally as detailed and sensational, with multitudes of twists and turns as The Woman in White would have been originally published in serial form in a periodical (Dickens’ All The Year Round to be precise)
I first read this novel at university during my first Master’s and it was this text and the way in which it was published and written that I became so fascinated by. I surprised everyone (including myself) by doing a Pos-grad Master’s in Victorian Literature and not Theatre Studies and although I never had any plans of “using” the degree for a career, it was a glorious time and I was so fortunate to be able to just study for the sake of knowledge. I have re-read The Woman in White many times since and still get goosebumps each time as it is a real page Turner.

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman isn’t technically a novel. In fact as just 6,000 works it isn’t even a novela but rather a short story but we will do away with formalities.

Presented in the first person, the story is a collection of journal entries written by a woman whose physician husband (John) has rented an old mansion for the summer. Forgoing other rooms in the house, the couple moves into the upstairs nursery. As a form of treatment, the unnamed woman is forbidden from working, and is encouraged to eat well and get plenty of exercise and air, so she can recuperate from what he calls a “temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency”, a diagnosis common to women in that period. She hides her journal from her husband and his sister the housekeeper, fearful of being reproached for overworking herself. The room’s windows are barred to prevent children from climbing through them, and there is a gate across the top of the stairs, though she and her husband have access to the rest of the house and its adjoining estate.

The story depicts the effect of understimulation on the narrator’s mental health and her descent into psychosis. With nothing to stimulate her, she becomes obsessed by the pattern and color of the wallpaper. “It is the strangest yellow, that wall-paper! It makes me think of all the yellow things I ever saw – not beautiful ones like buttercups, but old foul, bad yellow things. But there is something else about that paper – the smell! … The only thing I can think of that it is like is the color of the paper! A yellow smell.”

In the end, she imagines there are women creeping around behind the patterns of the wallpaper and comes to believe she is one of them. She locks herself in the room, now the only place she feels safe, refusing to leave when the summer rental is up. “For outside you have to creep on the ground, and everything is green instead of yellow. But here I can creep smoothly on the floor, and my shoulder just fits in that long smooch around the wall, so I cannot lose my way.”

I think was the first book I read in one sitting and immediately there and then re-read and re-read again. I was absolutely gripped by the writers ability to put you inside the protagonists head so well it was actually pretty unnerving but you just kept going back for more. At the time I was just a teenager in first year of university and I did not fully appreciate the exploration of PND that is explored in the book amongst other topics. I was just amazed at how seemlessly I felt everything she did.  A few years later I actually devised and danced the book which was also a truly odd experience.

So when this book popped into my head I discounted it because it certainly isn’t a novel and it certainly isn’t even fiction however it is the book I have re-read The most in the last four years since I have had my kid’s and it is the book that would have saved me a lot a lot of time reading ALL the other baby books if I would have known about it first. I think at one point I had about 60 baby books all around my nursing chair when Aiden was a few weeks old and when I eventually got round to reading Bumpology it was like breath of fresh air.
From the moment she discovers she’s pregnant, every woman becomes obsessed with the life that’s developing inside her. Linda Geddes was no different, except that as a journalist writing for New Scientist, she had access to the most up-to-date scientific research. What began as a personal quest to find the truth behind headlines and information that didn’t patronise or confuse became a weekly column and is now this brilliant book, answering everything you’ve ever wondered about having a baby, from the first pregnancy symptoms to birth and through the baby’s first year.
It is such an easy book to read but extremely interesting and I love the evidence based approach she takes to things including can you set out to conceive a specific sex, how big is a BIG baby (we are taking record breaking), and how to understand babies different cries (so simple buy so clever).
If you are pregnant or just had a baby or know someone who is, buy this book! It is also funny, which helps.
So do you have any books you re-read over and over?
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