Tag Archives: to kill a mockingbird

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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There Are Some Second Acts

A friend of mine sent me this article in the London Times from last week about second novels. It’s a story about the pressure on novelists who strike it big with their first novel – like Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Travelers Wife – to repeat this success the second time around.

The article goes on to list famous books that were spectacular second novels but which followed on barely noticed first novels – Pride and Prejudice, Ulysses, Midnight’s Children – to name a few. It also lists cursed second novels that followed on huge successes – Something Happened by Joseph Heller after Catch 22, for example, or Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier after Cold Mountain –  as well as one hit wonders that were never followed by anything at all. To Kill a Mockingbird and Gone With the Wind both fall in the last category.

As a veteran of two career changes and an aspiring novelist, I was heartened to see the list of great second novels. The length of the list and the star quality of its titles really drove home that age-old adage: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice!” Most of us won’t become wildly famous in the process, but if we really apply ourselves to something, we will likely improve. (As Bob Fosse expalined to an aspiring dancer in one of my all-time favorite movies, All That Jazz, “I can’t make you a great dancer. But I can make you a better dancer.”)

I keep that quotation in my head a lot. And it doesn’t apply just to writing or the creative life. With a little elbow grease, we can all get better at what we do (though if I’d written To Kill A Mockingbird I might have put down my pen and called it a day too).

Any other great second novels on your list?

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