I have a small collection of books that I reread whenever the mood takes me. These books have become like old friends to me. Time and time again, I have turned to them for comfort, for reassurance – even for guidance.
I don’t feel this way about all of my favourite books. I adore Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, just to name a random example, and I’ve read it many times…but it’s not one of the books I make a particular habit of re-reading.
These books – I’ll call them “the rereadables” to save time – all have a few things in common. The rereadables are all really short; the kind of books you can read in a sitting or two. And, like a literary first-aid kit, each book is there for a reason; the answer to an unspoken question.
I keep these books, my rereadables, in the tiny shelf on my bedside table. When I can’t get to sleep, for example, I pick up Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. I don’t even need to begin at the start – just open the book to a random city, and begin to explore.
I won’t give you a complete list of my rereadables. It seems too personal. And besides – the list is always changing. Some books have fallen out of my life over the years. We’ve grown apart. And I’m always finding new favourites. I read A Room With A View last New Year’s Eve and decided instantly that this would be the beginning of a New Year’s tradition.
This post is about one of the books from the shelf next to my bed. It’s about the book that I’ve reread so many times, I’ve lost count.
But – promise you won’t laugh at me when I tell you what it is, okay?
It’s The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
I first read The Little Prince when I was seventeen and studying French. Actually, it was the first book I read entirely in French. (The second, if you’re interested, was Camus’ L’Étranger). My small class – there were five of us – read The Little Prince together, painstakingly slowly, with our heads awkwardly close to the photocopied pages and our dictionaries waiting beside our elbows.
That was a long time ago. I’ve forgotten most of the French I learned at high school – but this book has remained with me all this time. I have two copies, both in English. The images in this post are from an early edition American copy I was given for Christmas, many years ago.
Every year, I celebrate my birthday by re-reading The Little Prince. It’s become a ritual, a tradition. Between the pages, there are tickets, boarding passes, receipts, sticky notes – the memories of birthdays past.
Why do I love The Little Prince? It’s because it doesn’t blindly idealise childhood. That would be cloying and ridiculous. It’s much more profound than that.
The Little Prince has a lot to say about children, and, yes, adults – and “grown-ups” are frequently criticised…but, at the same time, Saint-Exupéry’s narrator is proof that one can become an adult and still retain something of what it means to be a child.
I adore Saint-Exupéry’s beautiful illustrations. Yet in every illustration of the little prince himself, he is different in some way, as if our narrator is struggling to recall what he looked like – a constant reminder that retrospection is essentially flawed. Saint-Exupéry dwells on the impossible, the unattainable, the invisible – and that’s what draws me, time after time, to this book.
The Little Prince portrays childhood as a country from which we, as adults, are forever exiled – but, at the same time, The Little Prince doesn’t wallow in the past – it gives us a new perspective on the future. It helps us conceptualise adulthood in an entirely new way.
Saint-Exupéry wrote The Little Prince in exile during the Second World War, and it’s often when I’m in a state of metaphorical war and exile that I long to re-read this book. When the adult world is all just a little too much, this book picks me back up, brushes the dust from my clothes and sends me on my way again, relaxed, revived and refreshed.
I’ve read The Little Prince so many times because every time I read it, it’s a completely different book. It speaks to me in an entirely new way. Yes, this is true of all books, but it’s especially true of the books I keep beside my bed – my rereadables. As I’ve changed over the years, these books have changed with me. They are, quite simply, my therapy.
I’d love to know if you have a particular book you reread all the time. Or maybe you have a little collection of rereadables, like me? Which books do you keep beside your bed? The books you love the most…or just the books you’re reading right now?