Our Reading Lives

Retro Rereads: My 2017 Reading Plan

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Jessica Woodbury

Staff Writer

Jessica Woodbury's professional life has taken her to prisons, classrooms, strip clubs, and her living room couch. After years as a Public Defender in the South, she now lives in Boston with her two small children. Cursed with a practical streak, she always wanted to pursue music or writing but instead majored in Biochemistry because it seemed like the appropriate thing to do. These days she does absolutely nothing with science or law and instead spends too much time oversharing on the internet. She has a soft spot for crime novels and unreliable narrators. And the strip club gig was totally as a lawyer, she swears.  Blog: Don't Mind the Mess Twitter: jessicaesquire

When people find out I read a lot, they usually ask something like, “What’s your favorite book?” I hate this question. How can I choose a favorite book? I’ve read hundreds upon hundreds of books and how can I judge one against another?

The older I get, the harder it is for me to define a favorite. It also gets harder for me to talk about my former favorites, books that meant a lot to me but that I haven’t read recently. I worry that the books aren’t as good as I remember, or that there’s something horrible and problematic that I missed when I was younger.

So for 2017 I’ve decided to consider the question: how do my old favorites hold up?

I was calling it 12 Faves in 12 Months, but a fellow Rioter suggested this way better name: Retro Rereads.

If you’d like to join the Retro Rereads crew, here’s how you can play along.

Step 1: Make your list of books. If you’re a regular reader with 50+ books a year, a list of 12 means you read one each month. This will still give you plenty of space for new books. It also means that if your list skews towards hefty classics (like mine does) that you can space them out. If 12 sounds like too many, that’s fine! Pick a number that sounds about right for you to space out for a year. Give yourself at least a week to be sure, go back and edit it and add to it and subtract from it until it’s a list you feel good about.

Step 2: Share your list using the #RetroRereads hashtag! Whether you share your reading on Litsy, Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, you can play along with the hashtag.

Step 3: Join the Retro Rereads Group on Goodreads where you can chat with other Retro Rereaders, get updates, and see which books are getting re-read the most.

Step 4: Start reading!

It took me a long time to settle on my final list. I’ve decided to read in chronological order of favorite, starting with the first book I fell in love with when I was 8, Where the Red Fern Grows. Then I’m skipping ahead to when I fell so hard for Ender’s Game when my friend let me borrow it in 8th grade, that she bought me the next two books in the series so I’d give her copy back to her.

In high school I read and re-read My Name is Asher Lev, Chaim Potok’s story of a Hasidic Jew who struggles with his faith and his calling as a painter. And then I started diving into the canon, becoming a devoted reader of Faulkner, citing Absalom, Absalom as my favorite (Although I only read it once, I already know this is going to be the toughest one on the list.) Near graduation I dipped my toe into current fiction with Beach Music, borrowed from my Mom’s bookshelf when I didn’t have anything to read.

In college I found the book that’s usually the one I cite as my favorite, The Secret History by Donna Tartt. It’s the last book I read over and over again, I used to read it once a year and it was like an old friend. But I still spent a lot of time with the classics, a devoted fan of Hardy and Nabokov–Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Lolita (the annotated version).

I was 24 when I fell down the hole of Graham Greene, lovestruck with The End of the Affair. And then I started reading modern fiction in earnest, always stopping at the new books shelf at the library. And that is how I found Cloud Atlas and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and The Night Watch.

That list covers over 20 years of reading history. I don’t have anything from the last couple of years because they haven’t been books I love long enough to earn the title of favorite, but your list can vary!

I’m looking forward to trying to find common threads, to going back through my reading journey and seeing why I loved particular books so much. And I’m sure there will be at least a few that won’t hold up.

I hope you’ll join me and I’m excited to see your lists and follow along!