Some books are evergreen: no matter how many times you read them, you’ll find something new that you never saw before. Plus, there’s something super-comforting about re-reading a familiar story, knowing its characters inside out and chuckling at your favourite joke for the fiftieth time. Often, we form our impressions of these books in childhood, and returning to them later gives us a nostalgic rush. Other times, it might be a book that strikes us as so significant, so funny, so insightful, so relevant, or so heartbreaking that we can’t help but return to it time after time. To celebrate these beloved books, this week on Keeping Up With The Penguins we’ll take a look at seven books you can read over and over again.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
This is a selfish addition to this list, I’ll admit, because I reviewed We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves just this week, and I absolutely fucking loved it. I cannot recommend it highly enough! Even though your enjoyment of this book might be predicated on the plot twist that occurs about a third of the way in (don’t click through to the review unless you’ve already read it!), I think I’ll still enjoy reading it over and over again. Indeed, early passages have new meaning when you know what’s coming. Plus, it’s just so damn funny and heart-wrenching in equal measures that I won’t be able to help coming back to it. Read my full review of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves here.
1984 by George Orwell
I talk about George Orwell’s 1984 a lot here on Keeping Up With The Penguins because it is one of my favourite books of all time and it is the ever-fucking-giving-tree of relevance and significance. I’ve re-read it at least a dozen times, and every time something new jumps out at me. One time, I got really hung up on how it expressed the idea that history is written by the victors. Another, I was struck by what Orwell was saying about human relationships, and the context in which they occur. On my very first reading, back when I was a teenager, I had a Black Mirror-esque freak-out about the idea of technology watching us (that was in the days before smart phones, little did I know…). What I’m saying is that you’ll never get tired of re-reading 1984, and there’s always something new to chew on.
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
Jane Eyre convinced me – now and forever – that Charlotte is by far the superior Brontë. Her best-known work is beautifully written, and should be read and re-read for its masterful storytelling alone. Beyond that, though, it has all the makings of a favourite classic: romance, mystery, adventure, injustice, and conflict. Yes, okay, the romance is quite problematic, but I still got swept up in it, in spite of myself. I’ll turn to this book in times of need, like a hot bath or a stiff drink. Read my full review of Jane Eyre here.
Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowling
OK, I’m cheating – firstly, this is actually a series of seven books, and secondly, I think just about every bookworm my age has already re-read the Harry Potter books at least a couple of times. I’m not sure they meet the mandate of giving the reader something new every time, but Harry Potter defined a generation of readers. Even now, it’s great to flick through them, remembering how it felt to read them with wonder for the first time. It’s so funny to see kids “discovering” the series, declaring their Hogwarts houses on their Instagram bios and getting lightning bolt tattoos (it’s probably the same way our parents felt when we all discovered ’80s pop). Edited later to add: too bad the author turned out to be a total Umbridge! If I was writing this list today, I would not include Harry Potter. Trans lives matter.
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
If Harry Potter cheats the mandate, I can guarantee you that Moby Dick does not. You will never run out of new shit to find in this rabbit warren of a book. It is six hundred pages of mostly digression, with Melville’s thoughts running off in every direction. Even if we set aside the actual content, Melville’s experimentation with style and form and narrative perspective can keep you busy for at least a few re-reads. Every time you pick it up, you’ll find some new poignancy to your own life circumstances, and the world around you, because it’s just so broad that you couldn’t possibly not find something to relate to. Give it a try! Read my full review of Moby Dick here.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
When I first started telling people that I was reading my way through a list of popular and classic books, a whole bunch of them asked me whether The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was on it. It’s been recommended to me far more than any other book, and it’s a long-time favourite of many readers. It’s not hard to see why: “the adventures of the last surviving man following the destruction of Earth” is a pretty compelling premise! It is equal parts hilarious, quotable and brilliant. Another one to turn to when you’re feeling down, or need to find some comfort in its familiarity. Read my full review of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy here.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Eagle-eyed Keeping Up With The Penguins readers will know that my first shot at Wuthering Heights didn’t go so great. I had a lot on my mind at the time, and just lacked the emotional strength to fully immerse myself in Emily Brontë’s story of love (and incest, and madness, and fear) on the moors. That said, I can totally see myself returning to this story a hundred times over and still finding buried treasures that take me by surprise. Wuthering Heights is definitely evergreen, as the decades of academic analysis online can attest. Cathy and Heathcliff aren’t done with me yet! Read my full review of Wuthering Heights here.
Of course, any book can be read over and over again – there’s probably as many evergreen books as there are readers, because everyone will feel differently about what each books means to them. What books can you read over and over again? Let me know in the comments below (or share them over at KUWTP on Facebook!).
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June 15, 2018 at 8:13 AM
What a great list! It included some of my favourites like Jane Eyre and Harry Potter. But I must confess that I only ever read each HP book one time (the day of their release). The movies I have seen so many times. My hubby is now reading HP for the first time so I feel like I need to read them again soon. 😊
June 16, 2018 at 9:25 PM
Gosh, it’d be amazing to read Harry Potter for the first time again!! You should definitely give them a re-read, see if they hold up for you 😉
June 15, 2018 at 1:10 PM
I loved We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves!
And my six-year-old daughter is among the kids now discovering Harry Potter. We’re reading them aloud together (I haven’t read them either) and then watching the movies. We just finished the fourth book and will be watching the movie this weekend. She was Hermione for Halloween. I love it 🙂
June 16, 2018 at 9:26 PM
Yes!!! I’m not a maternal type, but I’d imagine pretty much one of the best parts of having kids is introducing them to Harry Potter and other amazing books from my own childhood 😉
June 16, 2018 at 6:56 AM
This is a great list. you have included some of my favorite books. I found Nineteen Eighty Four too disturbing to read again however. I read it twice. I thought what happened to the main characters to be too nightmarish.
I have also read Moby Dick twice. I need to read it again. I am sure that I will find a lot more in this book.
June 16, 2018 at 9:27 PM
Moby Dick is incredibly layered, I’m sure you could read it a hundred times and still find something new each time you open it! 1984 is pretty confronting, you’re right – but it’s one that I’ve read dozens of times, and will surely read again that many times over!
June 19, 2018 at 8:36 PM
After seeing your IG post, I had to come and see which 7 you’d recommend yourself, and now you’ve intrigued me about Moby Dick, which I’ve never read even once. But I’m going to get my hands on a copy, because your review made it sound so worth the 600+ pages.
I agree with the Brontes and Harry Potter, and wouldn’t mind giving Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy another go, since I enjoyed it the first time.
June 20, 2018 at 11:44 AM
Ohhh I’m so happy, a Moby Dick convert!!! It’s a hard slog, you might not thank me for it initially, but it’s well worth it – just let yourself get into the “flow” and don’t get hung up on understanding everything (or even enjoying everything) straight away. It will stick with you for a long time. 🙂 Please do let me know how you go! (And if you’re going to pick up a copy through Amazon, please do consider using one of my affiliate links, like this one – I get a small cut of each sale at no extra cost to you, which helps me keep the lights on at KUWTP! ;)).
June 20, 2018 at 10:24 AM
Aw, man, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is a book I one hundred percent should reread. I read it twice and loved it, and now I own it, and I’m tres excited to keep rereading it over many years yet to come.
June 20, 2018 at 11:45 AM
Yes!! Isn’t it fantastic?! I only just read it for the first time for this project, but I can tell I’m going to re-read it many times over the years to come, it really stuck with me <3
June 20, 2018 at 1:54 PM
Yes to Jane Eyre! Most definitely. There’s so much in that novel that I get more out of it with each read.
June 20, 2018 at 3:03 PM
Oh, isn’t it amazing?! Charlotte is definitely my favourite of the Brontës!!
June 25, 2018 at 10:54 PM
Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach, only book I’ve ever reread repeatedly. Mostly I find rereading books to be a dull experience. Which is great because I get time for new books.
June 26, 2018 at 5:32 PM
I’m envious! I’m a chronic re-reader, I love the familiarity (okay, maybe dullness, haha) of it. Forcing myself to read only new books without any re-reads has been very eye-opening!
July 1, 2018 at 11:40 AM
Jane Eyre. I don’t know how many times I have re-read it. I read it three times when I was 12 and then probably once a year until I graduated from high school. I bought and listened to the audiobook a couple of years ago. I think I’ll listen again next year. 💟
You are on your own with Moby Dick, ha ha. It was one of the few required reading titles I loathed in school. 🐋😝🐳
July 1, 2018 at 1:44 PM
Hahahaha my passion for Moby Dick definitely raises some eyebrows and elicits some strong opinions 😉 I’m totally with you on Jane Eyre, I read it for the first time just recently for this project (review coming soon!), but I could tell from the opening pages that it was going to be one I loved and re-read a hundred times.
January 3, 2022 at 8:52 AM
What? To Kill a Mockingbird didn’t make the list? I have read it 4 times in my lifetime. Once as a young adult in the 1960’s, again as a mother of three in the 1980’s and recently as a senior citizen in 2010. New insights each time. I will reread in 2022.
January 11, 2022 at 1:37 PM
Oooh, that would be a great addition! Thank you, Vi!
September 14, 2022 at 4:39 PM
Do you really have to drop the “F” bomb in the middle of a list of book recommendations? Jeez, man, show some class!
September 14, 2022 at 11:00 PM
Isn’t it dreadful, Meredith? No fucking class whatsoever! 😉
October 20, 2022 at 5:44 AM
Oh, Sheree, your comment was just so funny. And so unusual. I mean, I have never heard anything like it before. You must be such a creative thinker!!
I may talk like that to my good friends. But I really think that the “F word” isn’t needed in book reviews. Some of us were raised with good manners and a sense of protocol.
November 23, 2022 at 12:06 AM
Please don’t forget The Confederacy of Dunces. My all time favorite book🥰
November 24, 2022 at 11:17 PM
Oooh, good tip! Thank you, Lamira!