Five books I want to read again and why.

by |July 1, 2011

When I am considering the big question:

What shall I read next?

I instinctively look toward the big pile of books I have yet to read – with so little time to read in life,  it makes sense to keep trying new things.

But every so often, while looking for something new, I stumble across something old, something I read long ago. Holding it my hands, I realise it is at best, half remembered. Flicking it open, I discover parts of myself pressed and dried between its pages – fragile emotions unused to light and air which disintegrate before my eyes. I acknowledge that the person I was when I read the book is lost to me forever, but the book itself is not. But do I dare read it again?


Here are five Penguin Classics I want to read again and why.

The Red and the Black

by Stendhal

Why I want to read it again:

I was overwhelmed by this book when I first read it. I read feverishly and quickly. I had never come across a mind like Stendhal’s and was thrown off my guard. The Red and The Black is a powerful novel, blindingly honest at times, which leads the reader deep into the heart and mind of a man ruled by ambition. I hope on a second read I can keep my head and read with more circumspection, for I would love to know how Stendhal managed to entrap me so entirely the first time around.

Good Bit:

Only a fool, he said to himself, loses his temper with other people. A stone falls, doesn’t it, because of its weight? Must I always be a child? When shall I acquire the sensible habit of selling just so much of my soul to people of this sort as their money warrants? If I wish to be respected by them and by myself, I must show them that, while I barter my poverty for their wealth, my soul is a thousand leagues out of reach of their insolence, in a sphere too high for their petty marks of favour or contempt to affect it.

Publisher synopsis:

Handsome and ambitious, Julien Sorel is determined to rise above his humble peasant origins and make something of his life. To do this, he realizes he must adopt the code of hypocrisy by which society operates, achieving advancement through deceit and self-interest. His triumphant career takes him from the provinces to glamorous Paris society, along the way conquering the beautiful, gentle Madame de Renal, unhappy wife of his employer, and then the haughty, aristocratic Mathilde, engaged to another man. But he brings about his own downfall when he commits an unexpected, devastating crime.

About the Author
Marie Henri Beyle, known as Stendhal (1783 – 1842) fought during the Napoleonic wars. After Napolean’s fall, he retired to Italy and began to write under his pseudonym. In 1821 he left Italy and returned to France, where he completed Love. The Red and the Black was his second novel, and he completed three others.


The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling

by Henry Fielding

Why I want to read it again:

The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling surpasses all expectation – it truly is all of the things it is said to be, whether they be positive or negative. It is a great world of a book full of marvels and miseries defying praise or criticism. I see it on the shelf and it winks at me and says – Come on, jump aboard. No passport necessary. No booking required. You know you’ll not regret it.

Good Bit:

There is a set of religious, or rather moral, writings which teach that virtue is the certain road to happiness, and vice to misery in this world. A very wholesome and comfortable doctrine, and to which we have but one objection, namely, that it is not true.

Publisher synopsis:

A foundling of mysterious parentage brought up by Mr Allworthy on his country estate, Tom Jones is deeply in love with the seemingly unattainable Sophia Western, the beautiful daughter of the neighbouring squire – though he sometimes succumbs to the charms of the local girls.

But when his amorous escapades earn the disapproval of his benefactor, Tom is banished to make his own fortune. Sophia, meanwhile, is determined to avoid an arranged marriage to Allworthy’s scheming nephew and escapes from her rambunctious father to follow Tom to London.

A vivid Hogarthian panorama of eighteenth-century life, spiced with danger and intrigue, bawdy exuberance and goodnatured authorial interjections, Tom Jones (1749) is one of the greatest and most ambitious comic novels in English literature.

About the Author
Henry Fielding (1707 – 54) started his career as a playwright until his outspoken satirical plays so annoyed Walpole’s Government that a new Licensing Act was introduced to drive him from the stage. He turned to writing various ‘comic epics in prose’, including SHAMELA (1741), JOSEPH ANDREWS (1742) and TOM JONES (1749). A master innovator, he is credited with creating the first modern novels in English.


Daniel Deronda

by George Eliot

Why I want to read it again:

This one is easy – I wanted to read it again even before I finished it! Here is my reaction to the novel written at the time….

I am nearing the end of this marvellous novel, Daniel Deronda by George Eliot, and I fear I may still be caught under it’s spell for I am tempted to say this novel is greater than her Middlemarch. Might it not be true? Might not a mind as vast and as varied as George Eliot’s have bettered herself in her last novel?

Again with this novel Eliot dives into the deep regions of the heart and mind yet here her focus is narrowed to a sharp point so we apprehend the full force of her intellect at once. The omnipotent and diffuse Eliot of Middlemarch is exchanged for the maternal and particular Eliot in Daniel Deronda – her eyes come to rest upon her main character as a mother’s on her only son.

I will defer making a final judgement, if indeed one is even necessary, till I have finished the final few pages and have had time to reflect. Though, it must be said, had I been forced, through some unfortunate accident or tyranny, to leave off reading Daniel Deronda after the first hundred pages, I would have been able to say with confidence that the novel is one of the greatest ever penned.

Good Bit:

I am not decrying the life of  the true artist.  I am exalting it.  I say, it is out of the reach of any but choice organisations– natures framed to love perfection and to labour for it; ready, like all true lovers, to endure, to wait,  to say, I am not yet worthy, but she–Art, my mistress–is worthy, and I will live to merit her. An honourable life? Yes. But the honour comes from the inward vocation and the hard-won achievement: there is no honour in donning the life as a livery.

Publisher synopsis:

As Daniel Deronda opens, Gwendolen Harleth is poised at the roulette-table, prepared to throw away her family fortune. She is observed by Daniel Deronda, a young man groomed in the finest tradition of the English upper classes. And while Gwendolen loses everything and becomes trapped in an oppressive marriage, Deronda’s fortunes take a different turn. After a dramatic encounter with the young Jewish woman Mirah, he becomes involved in a search for her lost family and finds himself drawn into ever-deeper sympathies with Jewish aspirations and identity.

‘I meant everything in the book to be related to everything else,’ wrote George Eliot of her last and perhaps most ambitious novel, and in weaving her plot strands together she created a bold and richly textured picture of British society and the Jewish experience within it.

About the Author
Mary Ann Evans (1819-80) began her literary career as a translator and later editor of the Westminster Review. In 1857, she published SCENES OF CLERICAL LIFE, the first of eight novels she would publish under the name of ‘George Eliot’, including The Mill on the Floss, Middlemarch, and Daniel Deronda.


Mademoiselle de Maupin

by Theophile Gautier

Why I want to read it again:

Because I want to squeeze every last drop of wisdom from its pages. Because I want to be woken again from the slumber that is my life. Because I am greater than I am when I live in the illusion of its pages.

Good Bit:

My imaginary ideal would have to be of each sex in turn, so as to gratify this two-fold disposition; a man today, a woman tomorrow, and I would regale my lovers with my melting endearments, my submissive and fulsome postures, my most enticing caresses, my sighs that throb so plaintively, – in fact, with all that is cat-like and feminine in my temperament. With my mistresses, on the other hand, I would be bold, dauntless, hot blooded, carrying all before me jauntily, with the swagger of a dare devil and desperado. My whole nature would thus be displayed, and I should be completely happy, for true happiness consists in the ability of human beings to develop freely in every direction and to cover the whole range of their potentialities.

Publisher synopsis:

Chevalier d’Albert fantasizes about his ideal lover, yet every woman he meets falls short of his exacting standards of female perfection.

Embarking on an affair with the lovely Rosette to ease his boredom, he is thrown into tumultuous confusion when she receives a dashing young visitor. Exquisitely handsome, Theodore inspires passions d’Albert never believed he could feel for a man – and Rosette also seems to be in thrall to the charms of her guest. Does this bafflingly alluring person have a secret to hide?

Subversive and seductive, Mademoiselle de Maupin (1835) draws readers into the bedrooms and boudoirs of a French chateau in a compelling exploration of desire and sexual intrigue.

About the Author

Theophile Gautier (1811-72), French painter, poet, novelist, and critic, was a leading exponent of Art for Art’s Sake, preparing the way for the Parnassians and Symbolists in their reaction against Romanticism.


The Return of the Native

by Thomas Hardy

Why I want to read it again:

I want to read all of Hardy again but I want to start with The Return of the Native because in its pages I found a way to connect with the world and to accept my relationship with it. In the dark and desolate beauty of the heath I found I could make some sense of my own mortality. The Return of The Native is a book written in flesh and soil whose sheer weight can slow the busiest mind and bring them to an instructive halt.

Good Bit:

He had been a lad of whom something was expected. Beyond this all had been chaos. That he would be successful in an original way, or that he would go to the dogs in an original way, seemed equally probable. The only absolute certainty about him was that he would not stand still in the circumstances amid which he was born.

Publisher synopsis:

You are ambitious, Eustacia – no, not exactly ambitious, luxurious. I ought to be of the same vein, to make you happy, I suppose.’

Tempestuous Eustacia Vye passes her days dreaming of passionate love and the escape it may bring from the small community of Egdon Heath. Hearing that Clym Yeobright is to return from Paris, she sets her heart on marrying him, believing that through him she can leave rural life and find fulfilment elsewhere. But she is to be disappointed, for Clym has dreams of his own, and they have little in common with Eustacia’s. Their unhappy marriage causes havoc in the lives of those close to them, in particular Damon Wildeve, Eustacia’s former lover, Clym’s mother and his cousin Thomasin. The Return of the Native illustrates the tragic potential of romantic illusion and how its protagonists fail to recognize their opportunities to control their own destinies.



Do you know what Penguin Books mean when they say a book is a classic?

I think they mean that the book is one of the best books ever written. But how can they know this?

The books have withstood the tests of both time and endless critical appraisal. But beyond these two factors, Penguin knows because these books have been loved by readers for hundreds of years.

They have never been unavailable and have become a part of the foundation of human civilisation. Yes, generation after generation of readers have recommended these titles to their sons and daughters. They have been read and enjoyed by millions.

They have enlightened kings and queens, philosophers and preachers… they have raised peasants from the mud… released workers from the grindstone… they have caused revolutions and have helped to establish our modern democracies.

They have taught many to love, too. They have shown others what it means to feel darkly and deeply. They have made us laugh, and cry.

They are the books that must continue to be read if we are to retain wonders of our modern lives and to encourage us to continue the fight to rid ourselves of our woes.

Click here to browse through our range of Penguin Black Classics, all neatly sorted into categories to make selection easier and all at an irresistible low price!

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Click here to see my personal
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About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

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Comments

  • July 1, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    I must admit that I am not a huge “classics” fan. I am also not a big re-reader, but if I had to pick 5, they would be:

    The Lord of the Rings (I read it every year)
    The Heroin Diaries – Nikki Sixx
    Under The Dome – Stephen King
    The Stand – Stephen King
    MOAB is my Washpot – Stephen Fry

  • July 1, 2011 at 11:42 pm

    Great, now I’m trying to think of my own five books to re-read! Would you mind if I stole your idea for a possible future blog post? Provided I can choose just five books, that is…?

    This is such a beautifully-written post. And as if the words aren’t lovely enough, then you go and link to ultra-cheap Penguin Classics at the end of it?? Be still, my beating heart!

  • July 3, 2011 at 11:09 am

    Of course part of the joy of books is the first experience. How often I wish that a book I’m engaging in is one I was reading again for the first time such as To Kill A Mockingbird or The Big Sleep or Last Of The Mohicans. I know we can’t choose the context in which we read but those aforementioned books are three I would like to read again – like it was the first time. The other two would be Kerouac’s On The Road and Steinbeck’s The Grapes Of Wrath. Thanks for a fantastic post that certainly got me thinking.

  • Anthony Catanzariti

    July 5, 2011 at 11:18 am

    When you’re a teacher, rereading books is part of your job, which makes it so important to choose wisely. You want to convey a love of a good book, the joys of literature, etc as well as everything else the kids have to know to be prepared for the inevitable exams, so . . .

    * ‘Emma’ by Jane Austen, (I think anything by Austen would hold up as well but Emma’s the one I found myself teaching again and again and loving it. That Jane Austen was so clever.)
    * ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ – and it gets me every time. The bit where Holden is talking to Phoebe about what he wants to do with his life or the bit where he can’t cross the road without saying a prayer to his dead brother . . .
    * ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. It turns generation after generation into social activists, at least for a little bit.
    * ‘Hamlet’. I am Hamlet. Everyone is Hamlet.

    As well, I happily go back to ‘Sons and Lovers’ every so often, and ‘Freedom and Death’ and I can see myself returning to ‘A Portrait of a Lady’ again

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