The Reader’s Shelf | The Joys of Re-Reading

Fall books bring new treasures to readers, but among all the new, it can be pure pleasure to revisit the old, re-reading past favorites.

Fall books bring new treasures to readers, but among all the new, it can be pure pleasure to revisit the old, re-reading past favorites.

The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern (Anchor. 2012. ISBN 9780307744432. pap. $17), is always worth re-reading, as its layers of details, gorgeous settings, lush descriptions, and deeply clever plotting never reaches an exhaustion point. Le Cirque des Rêves opens at sunset and casts its spell all through the night, with events and spectacles woven from the most fantastical talents and imagination. But the circus is not just a place of wonders and dreams, it is the stage for a magical battle between Celia Bowen and Marco Alisdair, both of whom have been cast upon a playing field of deadly intent by two powerful magicians who use them in their ongoing proxy fight, one with complicated and personal rules, one that has being fought before. It will not matter that Celia and Marco slowly fall in love, for the game must be played, unless, that is, the ever-talented pair can somehow change the rules. READ NEXT: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke, offers similar pleasures as it unfolds a lavish fairy tale of magical battles against a backdrop of characters learning, and testing, their power.

Mysteries are perennially re-read (and repeatedly adapted for film), proving that the whodunit aspect of the genre is never really the point. Abir Mukherjee’s historical “Wyndham & Banerjee Mysteries” are intricately set and richly characterized, making re-reading them a multi-layered experience. In the harsh wake of World War I, veteran and ex-Scotland Yard detective Sam Wyndham is posted to Calcutta as part of the British Imperial Police. There he teams with sergeant Surendranath Bannerjee, a relationship Mukherjee brilliantly develops across the series. Both characters are intriguing and deftly realized and the cases they face, and the locales through which they navigate, help create an immersive feeling of the city, its people, politics, history, and landscape. Start with A Rising Man (Pegasus. 2018. ISBN 9781681776705. pap. $15.95), which begins with what looks like a political murder. READ NEXT: Suggest The Strangler Vine, by M. J. Carter, as it also stresses setting, characterization, and political themes, although it is set in 1837 Calcutta.

Joanna Bourne’s wonderfully executed Regency spy novels define the pleasures of re-reading a series full of characters and conversations readers are always ready to re-visit. The Spymaster’s Lady starts the run, but readers might want to jump in with The Forbidden Rose (Berkley. 2010. ISBN 9780425235614. pap. $9.99), the second book in the series, but the first in terms of chronological events. William Doyle, an English spy working in France, encounters Marguerite de Fleurignac, the head of a French ring of agents working to smuggle victims of Robespierre out of the country. Their story, which is smartly plotted and richly characterized, also introduces future main characters, including Hawker, the brilliant child-criminal who will one day run the entire British spy service. READ NEXT: For more committed cohorts on a mission, there’s Sarah MacLean’s Heartbreaker.

Some works are re-reading stars not just for the story they tell, but the lessons they teach. “Recitatif,” Toni Morrison’s only short story, is a case in point. The Pulitzer and Nobel Prize–winning author created a gem of a literary puzzle in 1983 when she first published the story in Confirmation: An Anthology of African American Women, edited by Amiri Baraka and Amina Baraka. It has just recently been re-published in a stand-alone edition with an introduction by Orange Prize and Anisfield-Wolf Book Award winner Zadie Smith (Knopf. Feb. 2022. ISBN 9780593315033. $16). The story begins when two young girls, Twyla and Roberta, meet in an orphanage and follows them through their thirties as they encounter each other in different locations around town. The story unfolds on two levels. The first is the interaction between the two women, as they circle and navigate their childhood experiences and tenuous relationship. The second is directed at the reader. One of the two girls is Black, the other white. Morrison continually obfuscates their racial identity and thus confronts readers, forcing them to examine their assumptions across every page. READ NEXT: Suggest the stories in Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, by ZZ Packer, for additional short works that confront and reveal.

The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches, by Sangu Mandanna (Berkley. Aug. 2022. ISBN 9780593439357. pap. $17), is destined to be a re-read classic. Set in modern-day Britain it tells the story of a very lonely and somewhat broken witch named Mika Moon who ignores the rules about witches gathering together when she agrees to tutor three young witches direly in need of aid. In so doing, she moves into Nowhere House and takes up residence with Ian, a retired actor and his gardener husband Ken, housekeeper Lucie, and Jamie, a highly protective, grumpy, and obstinate librarian. He and the others act as de facto guardians of the three girls, but their actual guardian, a powerful witch and archeologist, seems nowhere to be found. Details of magic (Mika harvests star shavings and brews teas infused with emotion), a subtle courtship story, and a lot of feelgood found family vibes makes this a cozy charmer. It is the perfect book to get out of a bad mood or extend a good one. READ NEXT: Hand patrons Sarah Addison Allen’s Garden Spells, another book well worth rereading, and one that hits the same magical notes of comfort and joy.

Neal Wyatt is LJ's Reviews Editor

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