As a bookseller, I love it when people elect to take my recommendations of any of the following books. I love it because every time I pick up that book, I remember the electric feeling I got the first time I read it. I also remember how these books somehow changed things. All of these books are 5/5-star books for me. Today I pay homage to books that I wish I could pick up and read for the first time again. Each of these books changed my perspective on what is permitted on a page; they are all written beautifully; they all signalled a change in how I thought.
1. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
The most common reason people wish they could read a book for the first time again is the plot twists. This is why everyone wishes they could read Fight Club again, and un-learn the secret about Tyler Durden. The Secret History is a brilliant campus novel involving all sorts of suspense and intrigue. A group of students welcome a new fellow to the fold, but all is not as it seems. The group accidentally murder a man (this is in the first line, so, you know – not really a spoiler) and the after-effects of that act touch each of them differently. I wish I could read this for the first time again because I wish I couldn’t see the plot twists coming. In fact, it’s written so grippingly that I believe that if I had time to get through this tome again I’d still be surprised by how it all pans out.
2. Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney
“You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning” – that’s the first line of Bright Lights Big City.
This is the first book that I read written successfully in second person – a perspective which changes the “I” of the story into “you”. When it’s done wrong, this style can feel clunky or accusatory. When it’s done right… it’s Bright Lights, Big City. The surprising writing style makes this book a delight to sink in to.
3. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
I was asked the other day what book had scared me the most. I’m not really a reader of scary books, as I deal badly with horror. Horror films see my covering my eyes or blocking my ears. My over-active imagination means that whatever horror I see or read stays with me, disrupting my sleep or the way I move around the house or in darkened spaces. House of Leaves appealed to me for its interesting use of space on the page – multiple storylines run on the same page, and Danielewski does a great job of mimicking the feeling of the content by playing with page space. The story is about a house whose internal dimensions are larger that its external dimensions – which, when you think about it, is impossible. The house’s inhabitants find a way in to the extra space, and decide to explore it. As they do, the space expands. This book is a ‘documentation’ of what they find. And it’s absolutely terrifying. I’m not sure whether this one is necessarily to be read for the first time; perhaps just one I’d really like to re-read. And one I want everyone else in the world to read so we can all compare notes of how scared we got.
4. Reality Hunger by David Shields
This book changed things for me. Its topic is collage and nonfiction. Shields questions all the regular Post-Modern concerns: who owns a story, what is originality, what makes something ‘real’? He examines the line between fiction and nonfiction, shooting at this target in a million different ways. The really nifty thing about this is that Shields loves collage, and has made this book entirely out of unattributed quotes from other people. Some words are his, most belong to other people. But it’s the new way of putting all these thoughts together that means that Shields says something new. As I read this book, I felt a bursting open of some kind of gate within my framework of thinking. It re-routed my thinking, in a way that encouraged playfulness toward new ideas.
5. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
Another book that changed how I thought things worked – AHWOSG is a book that straddles fiction and nonfiction. It uses a tonne of what Eggers calls “scaffolding” (footnotes and breaking of the fourth wall). Where I thought fiction had to be written in a detached style, and utterly removed from life, Eggers here has turned his life into a novel. A memoir with all the relevant playfulness and elaborations that are permitted in a novel.
What books do you wish you could read for the first time again?