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Over the next few weeks, I will be slowly revealing to you the handful of books that I read again and again and again.  I will not so much post reviews, as a series of bookish memories.

There are many books I’ve read twice, but if I read a book thrice or more, I feel like the book has somehow become part of me.  The few books I’ve read time and again are eclectic, and I re-read them each for different reasons and at different times.  I will reveal them in no particular order, as they are each so ingrained in my life that I can hardly place which came to my life first or last.

See that copy of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca in the middle?  It is beautiful, printed in 1938, deckle-edged, and just smells of time.  I purchased it just under a decade ago, in a second-hand book shop, for 50 cents.

I did not know it at the time, but this was destined to become one of my very favorite books.

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

So goes the famous first line.

“It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter for the way was barred to me.  There was a padlock and a chain upon the gate.  I called in my dream to the lodge-keeper, and had no answer, and peering closer through the rusted spokes of the gate I saw that the lodge was uninhabited.”

Those lines, the first time I read them, did not have the haunting effect they do now.  I longed to know the name of main character, which du Maurier never reveals.  It was years later when I realized that it doesn’t matter.  She was a nobody until she met Max de Winter.  Afterwards, she was Mrs. de Winter.  Those are her identities.  We are not given her name because it is unimportant.

Mrs. Danvers chilled me, and still does.  I can’t quite recall how I pictured her throughout the first reading, but these days she is a formidable, terse version of the Mrs. Danvers in the Hitchcock film version of Rebecca.

The lady who owned the second-hand book shop where I purchased this copy and I were great friends (or so my 16-year-old self thought).  We leant books back and forth, shared recommendations.  She would not give me my copy of Catch-22 back until she had found her own.  I would never have read Heinlein had it not been for her thrusting a copy of Job: A Comedy of Justice in my hands.

Her shop only stayed in town for a few years.  That small, southern town had few residents who would go out of their way to frequent it.

It was small, and the front room was filled with mysteries and a small section of mass-market contemporary fiction.  Past that, a similarly-sized room had a section of horrors (mostly King), a hodge-podge shelf of fantasy and sci-fi, two shelves of classics below eye level, and farthest back.. a towering bookcase of red Harlequin romance novels.

Every once in a while, I still find a bookmark from that shop shoved between the pages of one of my books.

Over the years, I gathered 5 other du Maurier books from second-hand shops, all printed around the same time, none as beautiful as Rebecca.  And I’ve read two of them.  None have the staying power of Rebecca either.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve turned to this book; perhaps once a year since I first purchased it.  I’ve not purchased a newer copy, and so this old, yellowed book has become quite familiar to me.  The front board could use a bit of glue.

But each time I open it, inhale it, finger it’s uneven pages, I am carried far away to a place I relish.  A place the 16-year-old me finds comfort.  Manderley, and an old bookshop.

Musing Mondays is hosted by Rebecca at Just One More Page.

Today she asks: There’s been some discussion on my blog this week about what should or shouldn’t make a ‘best’ books’ list. What elements do you think lands a book in that ‘best’ category? Think of your top 5 best books and tune in next week to see the collated list..

This is a tough one.  I hardly pay attention to “best books” lists.  If I were compiling one of my own, it would consider elements as the demonstrated writing skill, creativity, character development, ability to hold the reader’s interest, and ability to ‘stick around.’

I have a tendancy to like books that many people find boring or uneventful, because I LOVE character development.  I’d rather read a book that is entirely character-driven than even the most page-turning of thrillers with lame characters.  I like the language to feel like the author actually thought about the individual words, rather than just typing to get to the next plot-twist.  I like books where every sentence has a purpose, whether to illustrate something new about the character or just to more fully immerse the reader in the setting.  I always admire an author who can successfully give each character a unique voice without it being obtrusive.

When I read the ‘best’ books, I often put the book down on my lap, stare at it wonderingly and in silence, and take a few breaths.  I carry it around with me for hours or even days afterwards, not necessarily to refer to it, but just to have it.  Maybe to show someone.  But often because I’m just not ready to let it go.  And I bug my SO to read it until he caves.  Then we talk about it for days.  The ‘best’ books are ones that stick around even after I’ve put the book aside.

It’s hard to narrow my favorites down to five, but I’ll try.  In no particular order:

  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

And since I can’t leave them out, honorable mentions: Gone With the Wind (Margaret Mitchell), Blindness (Jose Saramago), and Their Eyes Were Watching God (Zora Neale Hurston).