We all have books we enjoy rereading, particularly the ones we designate as keepers. Even the crustiest, jaded bookworm out there has a shelf or a stash of favorite reads. My collection is about average, I think -- two authors' complete works and one full bookcase of individual titles by others -- but I know a couple of readers who have keeper rooms.
Then there are those rare books that go beyond keeper/favorite status into the realm of beloved. Stories we never tire of reading, no matter how many times we do. First editions lovingly cherished, dusted, and placed in a position of honor in our personal libraries. Books that we keep lender copies of so that no one has to touch our favorite copy and get their cooties on it.
What makes a novel transcend to the level of beloved is in the eye of the reader/beholder, I guess. One of my best beloveds is The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which I've been reading once or twice a year for the past thirty-two years. The original copy my Aunt gave me is sealed in a ziplock bag at present, as its pages are brittle, brown and falling out of the crumbling spine. If the house caught on fire, I will grab the kids, my guy, the pets, and this book. I have twelve other copies of TLW all over the house, and a box of giveaway copies to hand out to whatever kid I can convince to read it.
Why is TLW so beloved by me? It's a kid's book, and I'm really not much on kid fiction; I was reading Shakespeare by the time I was ten. But this one spoke to me when I was a girl who had never seen snow, a girl the same age as the author was when she struggled to survive with her blizzard-bound family during a endless winter. I can't eat a baked potato without thinking of one of the meals described in TLW. I once gave my sisters duplicates of the Christmas gifts described in the story. I even tried to twist hay into sticks and then set the results on fire to see how they burned (and kids, don't try this at home. You'll get grounded until you're thirty.)
Not all beloved novels are easy books to love. There are some with which we have odd, love/hate relationships. #1 on that list for many people is probably the Bible, another beloved I've wrestled with most of my life. Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier is one of my most unreasonable beloveds, though. It frustrated me to the point of ripping out the last pages and feeding them with enormous pleasure into my office shredder (I did a similar thing to A Tale of Two Cities in high school but got a detention for it. One of the greatest joys of adulthood: being able to buy and vandalize books when I feel like it.)
Last week I received an unexpected and lovely gift, a copy of the newest addition to my keeper shelf, signed and sent by an author I admire a lot (who also apparently reads my books, can I dig a hole in the ground and hide in it forever now?) I don't know if it will become a beloved -- I've only read it once so far -- but I'm already itching to take it down from the shelf and dive in it again.
What are some of your beloveds, and why do you think they mean so much to you?