Why I read the same two books every year
This is my confession, circa Usher 2004 (Just when I thought I said all I could say…you know that jam, right?):
Every December, I read the same two books. Kind of weird? Perhaps. Meaningful? I’d like to think so. The reason? I haven’t found two other books more poetic, inspiring, whimsical, or beautiful. I take a week or two in December, right around Christmas, to read through these beauties. I’ve been doing it for a few years now and it continues to be great fun.
So, what are the two books I read every December?
I read The Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby. The Catcher in the Rye is my Christmas book and The Great Gatsby is my New Year’s book. (There are, of course, other fiction and non-fiction books I re-read all the time too. That will be another blog post).
There’s something kind of amazing about re-reading a book. I liken it to the feeling you get when you listen to your favorite song on repeat, or sit down to watch a favorite film for the hundredth time. There’s comfort, of course, in familiarity–it’s why we repeat anything I guess–but there’s a deeper meaning as well. Really good stories need to be told often, and if we are to glean every ounce of insight, then we need to experience them again and again and again.
My fascination with The Catcher in the Rye started a few years ago. I’ve found people are never on the fence about this book–they either love it or hate it. I find the story deeply redemptive, shockingly accurate in describing not only adolescence but life in general, and also quite spiritual. Although J.D. Salinger turned out to be a rather colorful and interesting real life character, his story lives on as a beautiful accomplishment in literature.
Maybe it’s because I can relate so much to the character Holden, or I just like realistic fiction that tells it how it is. The truth, after all, isn’t something we apologize for. We just tell it.
And then there’s F. Scott Fitzgerald. I’ve read every major book that he wrote, as well as his half-finished novel that was published posthumously. He is one of my all-time favorite writers. I like his other books, especially The Beautiful and Damned (possibly my favorite Fitzgerald book), but Gatsby stands the test of time. I realize I am in no way unique for my position on the book. It has been, after all, labeled as one of the greatest books ever written. However, my love and adoration for Gatsby is layered.
It’s the romanticized historic situation juxtaposed with a prophetic view of the future. It’s characters that are so painfully wrapped up in the wrong things that they miss the gift of their own existence. It’s beautiful, elongated phrases and memorable dialogue that I can’t get out of my head. Fitzgerald writes in such a way you believe him, even if you hope to God he’s lying.
I could go on and on about why I love these books, but I want to focus on why I keep re-reading them.
The thing about these books, and all good books, is that the more you read them, the more you learn. I find myself learning something new about my life, my world, and my story every time I pick them up.
I see God in these pages, even if the authors never intended it to be. Perhaps it’s because all creative work is part of the ongoing process of creating the world (that’s a Rob Bell insight).
Great stories reveal God because He is the source of all narrative.
I guess I want to keep discovering this truth. I want to sink deep in great literature because it tells me something about life and love and the world we see and the world we don’t see.
Great books have a way of helping us make sense of mystery. They open our eyes in ways we didn’t believe were possible.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love reading new stories and new books and I’m glad we live in an age where publishing books has never been easier. The selection is vast and varied, and we have umpteen amounts of ways to read and discover new stories and authors. I love getting lost at a book store; or, as is mostly the case, on amazon. The quest for your next book is an exciting adventure for sure.
I keep coming back to these two. Great stories never really leave you. I’m a firm believer in the power of the written word, and not just in the sense that books impact you, but I believe certain books have actually changed me.
The books we adore and love, reveal something about our character and our story and who we are.
Maybe some day I’ll find other books to read again and again and again. In fact, I’m sure of it. Until that time, however, it’s going to be Gatsby and The Catcher in the Rye. December can’t get here soon enough, so I can dive into them and experience their beauty all over again.