When Plinky sent me an email asking "What book could you read over and over?" I could not resist the urge to answer. My choice may be somewhat unique, and maybe for that very reason alone, I must tell you about it…
The one book (besides the Bible) that I can and have read over and over is Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. I read it for the first time when I was about 14.
You might wonder how I came to read it for the first time… it isn't exactly something you hear American teenagers raving about.
At the time, I was taking piano lessons in a quaint little backwoods town. Right down the street from my piano teacher's house was one of the most fascinating libraries I have ever been in. It was located inside an old house and most of the books were antiques. When you wanted to check out a book, all you did was sign your name in a spiral bound notebook and write your phone number.
One summer afternoon as I explored the wonderfully spicy aged smelling stacks, I stumbled across a copy of Les Miserable divided into five hardbound volumes that looked old enough to be the very first English translation.
I started reading on the way home and as our sped down the winding mountain roads, I fell in love with the story of the man named Jean Valjean.
Before I was done I was hopelessly smitten with a young passionate rebel named Enjolras and was quite indignant at the ungrateful and somewhat brainless actions of the young Cosette. My heart went out more to her mother, the tragic beauty, Fantine.
Since that time, I have been gifted with my own unabridged paperback version. It sits proudly on my shelf, or wherever it happens to get dropped when I start rereading it. The spine is now severely creased in several spots and looked to be in danger of splitting apart all together.
Someday soon, I will purchase a hardcover version, which no doubt I will wear out also.
If you haven’t read Les Miserable yet, I challenge you, read it! Don’t cheat and get an abridged version either. Victor Hugo took 7 years to write that. Any abridgement takes out the heart and soul he poured into it. It is more than a novel… it is a discourse on all of life and humanity and comes very close to capturing the mysterious essence of the human spirit.