The books you would take to a deserted island
July 25, 2008 2:54 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for books and graphic novels that are meant to be read multiple times.

I remember reading in an interview with Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons that Watchmen was written to be fully understood after multiple readings. I've read the same in an interview with Haruki Murakami (I think the book in question was Kafka on the Shore.) What other books and graphic novels were written in this style?
posted by spec80 to Writing & Language (49 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Pretty much anything from Masamune Shirow, especially Ghost in The Shell.
posted by Brocktoon at 2:59 PM on July 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan
posted by hydrophonic at 3:11 PM on July 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Any good book with depth deserves to be reread. What kind of quality in particular are you looking for?
posted by xmutex at 3:17 PM on July 25, 2008

Gödel, Escher Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R. Hofstadter

The Red and the Black by Stendhal

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
posted by vkxmai at 3:19 PM on July 25, 2008

If you can get everything out of House of Leaves in one read, you're probably the author.
posted by Nelsormensch at 3:24 PM on July 25, 2008

This could quickly devolve into a "what are some good books" thread, but I think
Gravity's Rainbow certainly fits this description.
posted by arcanecrowbar at 3:24 PM on July 25, 2008

Nothing written by Gene Wolfe can be understood on the first read - it takes a couple of passes to get a good idea of what is to be taken at face value and what's a red herring, and then you can start to get to grips with the subtleties. And then you'll read one of his other books, and that will change everything so you have to start again.
posted by nowonmai at 3:29 PM on July 25, 2008

Seconding House of Leaves. I'm on my fourth or fifth reading and still discovering plenty.
posted by sjl7678 at 3:35 PM on July 25, 2008

Gormenghast Trilogy.
Alan Moore's graphic novels are densely packed with allusions and references. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a very good place to start.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 3:35 PM on July 25, 2008

Well as far as graphic novels (or compilations) are concerned, some are to be reread for the story, and others for the artwork (and how that completes the story) etc. In no particular order (excluding Watchmen);

Arkham Asylum

Kingdom Come


From Hell

An honorable mention would go to Cerebus (for its design, artwork and density of plot and politics - try and avoid Sims' bizarre and offensive exhortations).

As far as literature goes, quite honestly I'm amazed at how much more I get from Shakespeare after coming back to him after reading other books. There's a reason why his mastery of poetry and language speaks to us now, and probably will, centuries after every fine author we will list here will have long been forgotten. Start with Richard III, Hamlet, and Julius Caesar.
posted by elendil71 at 3:36 PM on July 25, 2008

Anything by Italo Calvino. Anything by Umberto Eco.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 3:37 PM on July 25, 2008

I have certainly heard it said that the only someone who has already read The Wasteland can understand it.

I do agree with those who have said that any great work of literature benefits from multiple readings.
posted by prefpara at 3:39 PM on July 25, 2008

Of Human Bondage - W. Somerset Maugham

Any great book of short stories - a favorite of mine is the Complete Works of Guy de Maupassant.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 3:49 PM on July 25, 2008

Lolita; I know I only paid attention to all the minor hints as to the identity of "Gustave" after I already knew who he was.

I remember Nabokov says that the astute reader will have already guessed who it is by the time he reveals the name, so I must not be very astute...
posted by Juliet Banana at 3:56 PM on July 25, 2008

Sophie's World. It is impossible not to re-read it, there is no way to fully understand the beggining until you have read the end.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 4:29 PM on July 25, 2008

If we ignore the over-broad reading that many here seem to be taking ("Anything that's good! Here are some graphic novels I liked!") and look at those with structural reasons, you'll find that the most notable is probably Hopscotch, by Julio Cortezar, in that there are two separate stories contained within, determined by the order in which the chapters are read.
posted by klangklangston at 4:47 PM on July 25, 2008

Seconding Pynchon and Wolfe, and I'd add Nabokov and Faulkner (especially The Sound and the Fury, one of the greatest novels I've ever read but much of which is incomprehensible first time around).
posted by languagehat at 4:47 PM on July 25, 2008

On non-preview, good call on Cortázar.
posted by languagehat at 4:47 PM on July 25, 2008

The classics are not classic for nothing, therefore Shakespeare and War and Peace spring immediately to mind. I am also seconding Pynchon, and Nabakov, and adding his Pale Fire. I actually do reread Pride and Prejudice periodically, for Jane Austen's astute understanding of the foibles of human nature; it is very funny to boot.
posted by gudrun at 4:51 PM on July 25, 2008

Seconding From Hell

Many of Iain Bank's novels demand to be re-read - The Wasp Factory, Walking On Glass, The Bridge, Use Of Weapons
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:56 PM on July 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding Jimmy Corrigan.
posted by gc at 5:13 PM on July 25, 2008

Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron
David Boring
Ice Haven
Ghost World

by Dan Clowes
posted by Koko at 5:24 PM on July 25, 2008

All the fictions of Jorge Luis Borges. I've been reading them over and over for some time now.
posted by ludwig_van at 6:24 PM on July 25, 2008

Oh god, seconding anything by Umberto Eco, Gene Wolfe and I'll add just anything by José Saramago (second question in a row I've gotten to throw his name in the ring).

After having recently reread a few titles, I've definitely gotten more out of the works of Ursula LeGuin than I did on my first reads.

Oh and Towing Jehovah by James Morrow if anything got better on the second pass.
posted by JaredSeth at 7:02 PM on July 25, 2008

Most (if not all) religious texts are certainly "meant to be read multiple times," but that's probably not what you're looking for.

More in line with other suggestions: Ulysses. Also, most ancient works require multiple readings to fully take in. Along those lines I would suggest the Odyssey, the Iliad, and the Aeneid.
posted by jedicus at 7:31 PM on July 25, 2008

Complex fantasy series like George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time and Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen. Casts of thousands and tons of minutiae that influence plot five or six 900 page books later in the series.

And Tolkien.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 7:39 PM on July 25, 2008

2nding GEB as well as anything else by Doug Hofstadter. I always neglect to read the footnotes the first time through...and he's also the only author I've ever read whose indexes (indices?) are actually a decent read in and of themselves.
posted by crinklebat at 7:44 PM on July 25, 2008

The Affirmation by Christopher Priest. He also wrote the novel on which the movie The Prestige was based - that's another book where the ending demands a re-reading.

With The Affirmation, however, he wrote a book where once you get to the end you can turn back to the beginning and read the book again as its own sequel. Very structurally complex.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 7:53 PM on July 25, 2008

John Crowley's Little, Big and Aegypt tetralogy; ditto Gene Wolfe recommendation.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 8:09 PM on July 25, 2008

Nth-ing House of Leaves & Hopscotch. Also, pretty much anything by Milorad Pavic and Nabokov in general although Pale Fire and Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle in particular deserve a mention.
posted by juv3nal at 8:22 PM on July 25, 2008

All short stories by Chekhov.
Also seconding Jorge Luis Borges.
posted by shamble at 9:04 PM on July 25, 2008

Seconding and emphasizing James Joyce's Ulysses. Probably Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, as well.
posted by Caduceus at 10:49 PM on July 25, 2008

The Sound and the Fury is a pretty obvious one, I should think.
posted by MadamM at 11:30 PM on July 25, 2008

Fifthing Gene Wolfe.
posted by futility closet at 2:29 AM on July 26, 2008

As far as graphic novels go, I would like to recommend The Death Of Speedy, book seven of the collected Love & Rockets by Los Bros Hernandez. That was my first encounter with a comic that has the kind of depth you're talking about, and unlike the Alan Moore books (which I love and have read more than once), the depth is due more to the story that the artwork tells than the story which is exposed through the use of language.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 2:51 AM on July 26, 2008

books I've read more than 2x

Cold Mountain
Nobody's Fool
Dr. Zhivago

No reason, I just like them and have gotten something different out of them each time. Nobody's Fool, I'm easily onto the 7th or 8th time through. (Richard Russo). Great movie too. Seen it 3x.
posted by sully75 at 5:37 AM on July 26, 2008

Moonwise by Greer Iline Gilman. Gorgeous language, poetic description, weird metaphysics, excellent puns. Hard going, but worth it.

On the non-fiction side, Principles of Effortless Power by Peter Ralston. He's gone deep into what really happens when people move, and it isn't the easiest thing to follow. His Zen Body-Being is more accessible, but still challenging.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 9:35 AM on July 26, 2008

Any of Chuck Palahniuk's books... at least the first ones you read.

After that, you see the twists coming, since he's pretty much written the same book 10 times. But the second time you read one you inevitably pick up whichever hints you missed the first time.

(I guess I'd recommend either Survivor or Choke the most. Some of the others are hit and miss, especially once you've learned the formula.)
posted by rokusan at 11:42 AM on July 26, 2008

And yes, any and all Borges.
posted by rokusan at 11:44 AM on July 26, 2008

Even more than House of Leaves, I'd say that Danielewski's Only Revolutions was written to be read multiple times. The text itself--the same story told simultaneously from two perspectives--suggests this, as the end brings you back to the beginning of the story but has you reading from what was formerly the secondary voice first. If that makes any sense.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:05 PM on July 26, 2008

The Illuminatus! Trilogy made no sense fnord to me until halfway through the second read, when it suddenly fnord clicked.
posted by namewithoutwords at 2:27 PM on July 26, 2008

I'll second Italo Calvino, specifically If on a Winter's Night a Traveler. Both his most accessible and his best, it gathers so many styles and threads that successive reads, while familiar, are always uncovering new perspectives.
posted by yamel at 2:38 AM on July 27, 2008

Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot. He won't come this reading, but he'll come next, without fail.
posted by ersatz at 6:12 AM on July 27, 2008

nthing House of Leaves. I don't know how many times I have read that book, but I think I will ALWAYS get something new out of it. I am undecided how much of it is intentional, and how much of it is me assuming that Danielewski planned every.little.thing when really it's just, uh, writing... but dear god, I think that book made me ten times more analytical and I learned more from it than anything else I've ever read.
posted by indienial at 4:13 AM on July 28, 2008

Also, the Death comics by Neil Gaiman. I may be alone in that, but every time I re-read them, I gain something. Also, the 7th Samarui by Helen DeWitt.
posted by indienial at 4:14 AM on July 28, 2008

And how could I forget... American Gods, by Neil Gaiman. Sorry. I've hijacked this thread, but there's another book I read about ten times before I fully connected the dots. Helps if you know or care to learn mythology/religious history. Not only that, but even if you don't get it all the first time, it's a cracking read.
posted by indienial at 4:16 AM on July 28, 2008

This is probably myth-spreading (and that nobody has mentioned it already confirms it for me) but I've heard that one should read Catcher in the Rye three times during life–once as a teen, once in middle age, and lastly as an elder. Don't know why, or how this fits into your island plans.
posted by iamkimiam at 8:11 AM on July 31, 2008

I can't believe I'm the first person to say Sandman. But yeah, Sandman.
posted by Messily at 9:03 PM on August 7, 2008

iamkimiam - I'm skeptical about the Catcher in the Rye idea only because it hasn't really been around long enough for many people to have read it at each of those life stages. Someone who was 16 when it was published would only be 73 today.
posted by Messily at 9:06 PM on August 7, 2008

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