Recently, on the New York Times Book Review podcast, I heard a veteran book reviewer tell the host that these day, at least half of the books he reads, he has read before. This puzzled me. This man has access to the latest and greatest of the book world, yet he chooses to spend a large portion of his time rereading old books. Then I read Hannah Coulter, and I understood. Whereas when I read The Art of Fielding, I mourned the coming conclusion of the story even as it had just begun, in the case of Hannah Coulter, I had the urge to start again at the beginning as soon as I finished.
The book is the life story of the title character, Hannah Coulter, of the Port William membership, a fictional community created by author Wendell Berry. He has written many novels and stories about this community, many of which I have read, but this is thus far my very favorite. Hannah's story is ordinary in the truest sense, and all the more extraordinary for its smallness. I am a city girl, raised in the suburbs, yet this book made me yearn for life in the country, or perhaps in a country that no longer exists. From war and death to parenthood and love, almost every important literary theme is touched upon in this book. Had I read it with a pencil in hand, I would have found myself underlining most of the words.
As I have reflected upon my favorite books this month, some of which I haven't sat down with since childhood, I have realized that many of them bear rereading. In the case of Hannah Coulter, it was just a few months ago that I read it for the first time, and already I want to read it again, and again.