Thursday, December 26, 2013

Favorite re-read books of 2013

Because I did so many re-reads this year, I can't just list my favorite new books; I want to give some love to my old favorites too (and perhaps pass along a few recommendations!)  I thought this would be a little list of all of my favorites from the year, with some quick descriptions, but it turned out that I had a lot to say - so instead, I'll save my favorite new books for another post.

Favorite re-reads:

Mariel of Redwall - I must've read all of the Redwall books (those that were out anyway) about a thousand times when I was a kid - to the point where I actually had to get new paperback copies of a few because they wore out!  This one definitely went through at least one copy in my house.  Mariel of Redwall, the fourth in Brian Jacques' Redwall series, was the first (and still one of the only) to feature a female protagonist - and what a mouse she is!  Mariel is still one of the feistiest female heroines I've ever come across, and her knotted rope one of the cleverest signature weapons too!  And her friendship with Dandin was awesome; they made the greatest adventuring pair, especially in the sequel, The Bellmaker, when they didn't even have to talk to lay out their battle plans because they knew each other so well.  The best part about their friendship is that it didn't have to get romantic.  Jacques let them stay friends, and unless he clarifies in a later book, the last I've heard of them is that Mariel and Dandin went off to continue adventuring together, saving lives and fighting the baddies.  (Although in this latest reading, now that I'm an adult, I wonder if it was because Mariel broke so many of Jacques' own gender stereotypes that the author never allowed her to get married.  Hmm.)  And pirates!  And ships!  As a little girl determined to grow up to be an intrepid seafaring marine biologist, this book was completely inspirational, and is still one of my favorite ever books.  If you've never read the Redwall series, why not give it a try?  It's worth starting at the beginning, to get a feel for how Jacques' world works, and you don't have to read all 22 (I'm still working on it myself).  But make sure to read far enough that you encounter the marvelous Mariel!

I Capture the Castle - A favorite for many of us in the book-blogging world, I Capture the Castle needs little introduction (except to the poor people who've never had a chance to read it - and if you're one of them, do yourself a favor and find a copy!  I've already given away two copies of this fantastic book, and am always on the lookout for it at thrift stores so I can keep spreading its magic.)  On this re-read, I found myself struck by Dodie Smith's identity as a playwright.  This book reads like a series of scenes, with a lot less description than many books.  Which is a pity, because my very favorite moments come right at the beginning as Cassandra explores the decaying castle that is her home, and explains the dysfunctional yet loving relationships between her quirky family members.  I wish there'd been more of that.  My copy has this cover, functional yet unexciting (though I did just notice that it does perhaps have resonances with the Barbara Pym time I read it, I'll have to see whether there are any other similarities between Smith and Pym!)

The Little Prince - I think of this as a children's book mostly because I first read it as a child.  This story of an alien prince who crash-lands on earth and then tells a pilot about his adventures is simplistic in its prose but deeply philosophical in its content.  I own both my mother's (?) old English-language copy as well as the original French-language version, heavily highlighted and marked up because my high school French 3 class read it aloud in its entirety as a group project.  While I can no longer read the French, I still love that copy, especially because the phenomenal illustrations are in color.  I'm also really coveting this t-shirt from Out of Print!

Daddy Long-Legs - Jean Webster's lovely bildungsroman was on my favorites list last year too!  I picked this one up right around the end of the semester, and it was a fantastic break from writing term papers.  Here's what I wrote about it last year (for all of these observations still hold): "This is a darling gem of a book that I wish I'd found ten or fifteen years ago so that I could grow up with it. An epistolary novel (swoon!), this book is a series of letters written by orphan and would-be author Jerusha Abbott to the man who has anonymously sponsored her college education. Judy, as she decides to call herself, is spunky and thoughtful, and absolutely delighted to encounter a whole new world of education: 'I didn’t know that Henry the Eighth was married more than once or that Shelley was a poet. I didn’t know that people used to be monkeys and that the Garden of Eden was a beautiful myth. I didn’t know that R.L.S. stood for Robert Louis Stevenson or that George Eliot was a lady. I had never seen a picture of the Mona Lisa and (it’s true but you won’t believe it) I had never heard of Sherlock Holmes.' Absolutely enchanting."  It was the perfect book to re-read while I was stressing out over schoolwork, because Daddy Long-Legs is a reminder that education is a wonderful and world-opening gift.

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