Five books I wish I could read again for the first time

I love this thought experiment, which I have shamelessly stolen from Bookish Bron. What are the books I loved reading so much the first time, that I wish I could have that exact experience again?

Not surprisingly, the five books I’ve chosen are on my ‘favourite books of all time’ list, though that list is much longer than this one.

The Thorn Birds

Cover of The Thornbirds by Colleen McCullough
Rural image of a farm in outback Australia

Blurb

A sweeping family saga of dreams, titanic struggles, dark passions, and forbidden love in the Australian Outback, returns to enthral a new generation.

What I remember about my first read

I was far too young to read this book when I read it the first time – around twelve years old – but I got lost in it. The writing taught me so much about the depth of human feelings. I wanted to be Meggie, as wretched and heartbreaking as her life was. I’d even read excerpts aloud, playing both ‘parts’ and cutting my emerging acting teeth. My copy was dog-eared and by the time I left high school, I must have read it a dozen times.

I should go back to it.

The Bronze Horseman

Cover of The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons
Half a woman's face
Two tanks in background denoting the context of the book - the Russian Revolution

Blurb

The golden skies, the translucent twilight, the white nights, all hold the promise of youth, of love, of eternal renewal. The war has not yet touched this city of fallen grandeur, or the lives of two sisters, Tatiana and Dasha Metanova, who share a single room in a cramped apartment with their brother and parents. Their world is turned upside down when Hitler’s armies attack Russia and begin their unstoppable blitz to Leningrad.

Yet there is light in the darkness. Tatiana meets Alexander, a brave young officer in the Red Army. Strong and self-confident, yet guarding a mysterious and troubled past, he is drawn to Tatiana—and she to him. Starvation, desperation, and fear soon grip their city during the terrible winter of the merciless German siege. Tatiana and Alexander’s impossible love threatens to tear the Metanova family apart and expose the dangerous secret Alexander so carefully protects—a secret as devastating as the war itself—as the lovers are swept up in the brutal tides that will change the world and their lives forever.

What I remember about my first read

My first full read happened after starting the book several times and not being able to get past the first chapter. Once I did, I could not put it down. Paullina Simons was inspired to write this story by the love story of her grandparents and this re-imagining is epic, heart-breaking, and often left me breathless. I was in constantly in awe of the characters’ courage, and I was utterly swept up by the love story, which was richly explored. And I found it impossible not to fall in love with Alexander. I wept at the end and impatiently waited for Simons to write the follow up (there are two).

The Goldfinch

Cover of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Painting 'The Goldfinch' obscured by paper wrapping; tear in the paper revealing only the bird in the painting

Blurb

Aged thirteen, Theo Decker, son of a devoted mother and a reckless, largely absent father, survives an accident that otherwise tears his life apart. Alone and rudderless in New York, he is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. He is tormented by an unbearable longing for his mother, and down the years clings to the thing that most reminds him of her: a small, strangely captivating painting that ultimately draws him into the criminal underworld. As he grows up, Theo learns to glide between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love – and his talisman, the painting, places him at the centre of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.

What I remember about my first read

I spent most of this novel in awe of the prose – Tartt’s unique way of crafting a phrase or a description, the succinct but poignant way she conveyed human emotion. The story itself shifts in tone in a way that echoes the protagonist’s experiences and realisations in perfect, seamless harmony. It’s exquisite and definitely one I will re-visit after some more time has passed.

The Time Traveller’s Wife

Cover of The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
A young girl's legs; she is wearing knee socks and black shoes and is standing in a field
Next to her is a picnic blanket on which are stacked men's folded clothes and a pair of men's shoes

Blurb

A most untraditional love story, this is the celebrated tale of Henry DeTamble, a dashing, adventuresome librarian who inadvertently travels through time, and Clare Abshire, an artist whose life takes a natural sequential course. Henry and Clare’s passionate affair endures across a sea of time and captures them in an impossibly romantic trap that tests the strength of fate and basks in the bonds of love.

What I remember about my first read

Sobbing constantly, intercut with laughter and swooning. I fell so in love with Henry and was so heartbroken every time he and Claire were separated, I was a wreck for the duration of this read. I also thought it was an absolute stroke of genius that Niffenegger stated the premise at the start of the book – that because of a genetic disorder, some people jump about in time. Once the premise is stated and accepted, it becomes ‘realism’ and she handles the ‘what if’ of time travel so perfectly, so humanely. God, I loved this book. And although I like both Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams as actors, I watched about ten minutes of the film before turning it off.

Strangers

Cover of Strangers by Dean Koontz
Sign for the Tranquillity Motel on a lonely highway; hotel in background overshadowed by a large, red full moon

Blurb

Six strangers are unaccountably seized by nightmares, attacks of fear, and bouts of uncharacteristic behavior. The six begin to seek each other out as puzzling photographs and messages arrive, indicating that the cause may lie in a forgotten weekend stay at an isolated Nevada motel.

What I remember about my first read

There was a decade of my life in which I read every Dean Koontz book as soon as they came out. Strangers and Lightning are my favourite Koontz books – both because of the mind-blowing twists. The twist in Strangers was so epic, I went back and re-read the first ninety per cent of the book before finishing it. Just wow.

Drop your list below in the comments.

3 thoughts on “Five books I wish I could read again for the first time

  • Totally loved The Thorn Birds too. Introduced me to the torturous and magnificence of romantic fiction, and I agree wholeheartedly about The Goldfinch (although I don’t at all care for Tartt’s The Secret History). The writing blew me away, and I often found myself pausing to relish a gorgeous phrase! The Time Traveller’s Wife scores full marks for originality. I loved it. Don’t know the other two but will add to my 100 mile high reading list!! Thanks for such a great post!!

    • Yes to this: ‘The writing blew me away, and I often found myself pausing to relish a gorgeous phrase!’ And I’m now thinking you’re right about The Thorn Birds – it may have been my first epic romance – sweet torture.

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