This summer I saddled up with Gus McCrae and Woodrow Call — two Texas Rangers. It wasn’t my first ride with this duo. They aren’t baseball players but the main characters of Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning Western “Lonesome Dove.” Every few years, I feel the pull of the open prairie, the call of the wild and the need for a little adventure, romance and rough talking with gun-slinging cowboys.
But I don’t head for the dude ranch; I find all of that and more in McMurtry’s eloquently written novel. Set in the late 1800’s, Lonesome Dove is the story of an evolving friendship between two Texas rangers turned horse rustlers. One is a romantic, the other a driven authoritarian. In their early years, they shared danger and adventure battling American Indians and clearing the west for settlement. But the years are catching up with them. A cattle drive from Texas to Montana is their chance to start a new life and bring back a bit of the excitement they miss from their rangering days.
And that is what many of us look for in a book for the summer — excitement and a real escape from the tedium of a working day. Summer is a terrific time to relax, unwind and visit with old friends, real or imagined.
Much-loved titles that invite revisiting include: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell and the last book I read aloud to my two oldest (12 and 14 at the time) — Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
Familiar friends also abound in the fantasy genre. Fantasy and science fiction titles in particular seem to be popular choices for re-reading. Classics like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Peter Beagle’s “The Last Unicorn” and Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea Trilogy stand up to the test of time. The Harry Potter books and Philip Pullman’s series “His Dark Materials” featuring The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass promise to be new classics that will be re-read by future generations. Several science fiction titles that library patrons revisit are the Dune series by Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series and Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Historical titles that have resonated with folks lately and are worth re-reading because of recent and ongoing news events are All the President’s Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, and Catch-22 by Joseph Heller – context says it all.
Sometimes the richness of the language is what brings us back. A certain description, a turn of phrase, a scrap of dialogue – we delve into Nabokov’s Lolita, Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain, and the short stories of Raymond Carver and Andre Dubus for repeat pleasure. But for sheer virtuosity of language, no one rivals Shakespeare. His works are always a pleasure to re-read.
Pre-school children understand the joy of re-reading picture books. Lines like “In the great green room” “The night Max wore his wolf suit” or “In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines” are familiar to many of us and evoke memories of repeated readings. But children’s chapter books are great to re-read too. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White and the more recent Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo come to mind as great books to share again and again.
Why does returning to familiar literary ground give so much pleasure? It strengthens our memories, anchors us – soothes and relaxes. Re-reading favorite books is like eating Mom’s chocolate chip cookies, a sort of comfort food for the soul. And I know that each time I meet up with Gus and Call, it is like greeting old friends.
Reprinted with permission from the Chelmsford Independent