Tag Archives: I Don’t Know How She Does It

Tips For Adulthood: Five Books That Are Worth Re-Reading

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood. Further to yesterday’s post about the pleasures of re-reading as an adult, I thought I’d make some suggestions about books that I think are worth a second read (or a first if you haven’t gotten to them yet!):

1. I Don’t Know How She Does It by Allison Pearson. Although some see this book as fanning the flames of the Mommy Wars (more on that tomorrow), I thought it was a terrifically funny – and moving – portrait of the over-stressed working mom. See yesterday for more on that one.

2. Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee. This is, in my opinion, a masterpiece and one of the very few novels I’ve read more than once (three times actually). It provides a stark, haunting portrait of a middle-aged man coping with disillusionment (both personal and professional), longing,  fatherhood, and masculinity…all set against the backdrop of a post-apartheid South Africa. Again, not everyone’s cup of tea – many people can’t stand the notoriously aloof Coetzee – but I discovered new layers of meaning with each additional read. I don’t always agree with the choices for Booker Prize, but this time I did (Winner: 1999).

3. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. It’s hard to believe that this is the only book that Lee ever wrote. I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen to re-read it – feeling I’d done my duty back in 9th grade when it was assigned in every freshman English class in the United States – but I re-read it in one of my book groups and was really glad that I did. In addition to all of the usual themes of childhood, race relations and the morality of violence, this book offers a glorious peek into the Depression-era American South.

4. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver – This one may be more familiar to British readers, even though it is set in America.  It tells the story of a mother coming to terms with her psychopathic son. Like Disgrace, this is a pretty dark tale, so brace yourself before reading. I’ve only read it once but feel like it demands a second read.

5. Anything by Jane Austen.


I am always drawn to the Stuff White People Like website, where the authors make fun of (upscale) white culture. Check out today’s entry on the Vespa Scooter.

Image: Jane Austen’s EMMA by Allie via Flickr under a Creative Commons Website.

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Guilty Pleasures of Adulthood: The Joys of Re-Reading

OK, admit it. You probably didn’t think I was going to end that sentence with “re-reading.” Sorry to disappoint.

But I was really taken with an editorial in last Saturday’s New York Times by Verlyn Klinkenborg about the pleasures of re-reading. In it, the author confesses that as much as she admires people who are widely read, she herself is much more of a re-reader.

I’m the opposite. I almost never re-read books. In fact, I compulsively get rid of books once I’ve read them, either returning them to the library or giving them away. (The zeal with which I “throw things away”  is yet another variant on my own personal ziplock conflict with my husband, btw…)

Part of this is because I live in a closet. But mostly it’s because I always feel like there’s a better use of my time. There are so many classics out there that I’ve never read that if I’m going to re-read something, I feel that it ought to be “important” – Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, for example. (This is also, btw, why I can be such a buzz kill in book clubs.)

But lately, I’ve come to appreciate that one of the great pleasures of getting older is that it gives you the opportunity to re-read. You pick up something that resonated for you at one point in your life and you see what it means to you now. As Klinkenborg puts it so eloquently:

The real secret of re-reading is simply this: It is impossible. The characters remain the same, and the words never change, but the reader always does. Pip is always there to be revisited, but you, the reader, are a little like the convict who surprises him in the graveyard — always a stranger.

A great example of this process for me – and which, interestingly, did not lie in the realm of the classics – was when I re-read Allison Pearson’s brilliant I Don’t Know How She Does It. I first read this funny and moving treatment of working-mom-hell when I was deeply ensconced in working-mom-hell and recognized myself in the stressed-out, over-performing, irreverent central character. (As did so many of my friends. My favorite anecdote from this book is when the main character wishes that she could create a special check-out line in grocery stores for particularly harried working mothers. I hear you, sister.)

The second time I read the book, however, I’d moved out of that phase of life into an entirely different one. I was trying to write a novel of my own and thought that it would be helpful if I read someone else who got the tone that I was shooting for right – i.e. a voice that was funny and insightful but also tinged with sadness and moments of darkness. And it worked. Because I already knew the plot line, I could read the book for the language…the tone…the rhythm of events. In short, I read it less as a mother and more as a writer. And it was a totally different experience.

I’m sure that there are loads of books out there that I could be re-reading if I would just let myself…stay tuned for tomorrow’s post.


Speaking of paranoia about not being sufficiently well-read, via the ever fabulous Very Short List I came across this link to a book aptly titled Beowolf on the Beach which gives plot summaries of all the classics. Crib notes for grown ups!

Book Babel: Half Read Tower of Shame by Pindec via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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