In an anecdote that sticks to the memory like an overdone cookie on an undergreased cookie sheet — those 2011 holiday baking mishaps still rankle — an American visiting the Sorbonne is accosted by a French student.
"You Americans!" the Frenchwoman says disdainfully. "You read all the time. You act as if there's something magical about reading!"
The American smiles and replies, "No, there's nothing magical about reading." She adds, "The magic is in rereading."
And so it is.
If you're looking for another resolution for the new year that doesn't involve diet or exercise — except the intellectual kind — then why not go back to these 12 classics and crack 'em open one more time?
"A Moveable Feast" (1964) by Ernest Hemingway: Hemingway's fiction has always left me cold, but when I reread this brief memoir about his early days as a struggling writer in Paris, I found it acutely moving. Fans of the 2011 best-seller "The Paris Wife" by Paula McClain claim that it channels the spirit of "A Moveable Feast," but don't believe that nonsense. Reread the original.
"The Man of Property" (1906) by John Galsworthy: Darn that "Masterpiece Theatre." Between my first and second readings of Galsworthy's sly gander at an upper-class British family in the Edwardian age, I watched the 2002 television dramatization of it. I couldn't get the actors' faces out of my mind. They blocked access to the author's story about a chilly, repressed clan, "no branch of which had a liking for the other."
"Animal Farm" (1945) by George Orwell: The late Christopher Hitchens was a great champion of Orwell's work, and Hitchens' enthusiasm persuaded me to revisit this short, powerful fable. In the light of current world events, Orwell's satire acquires even more urgency and moral force.
"Spoon River Anthology" (1915) by Edgar Lee Masters: Masters published his famous collection of 214 poetical epitaphs when he was a top Chicago lawyer — and the reading public's shock must have been tremendous. The poems strip off the polite covers that hide the souls of these small-town folks from each other. To reread these verses is to feel their desperation like a cold prairie wind.
"A Light in the Attic" (1981) by Shel Silverstein: Enough with the desperation and cold wind. Time for something light and frivolous and fun. If you haven't read Silverstein's sparkling poems since you were a kid — or since you read them to a kid in your life — treat yourself with a return to witty wordplay, clever rhymes and offbeat adventures.
"Of Mice and Men" (1937) by John Steinbeck: I used to think of Steinbeck as one of those plodding, deliberate writers with a permanently furrowed brow whose intensity and heavy-handedness made the books dreary and clotted. The older I get, though, the better he seems. You can see the tragedy coming from a mile away in this short novel, but that doesn't diminish its power when it arrives.
"A Man for All Seasons" (1960) by Robert Bolt: To appreciate just how simple-minded a culture we've become, reread this superb play in light of the mediocre 2011 film "The Ides of March," which covers some of the same ground: how to reconcile loyalty to a once-admired leader with one's moral duty, now that the leader's faults have been exposed. Bolt's drama, which chronicles Sir Thomas More's refusal to approve Henry VIII's divorce and remarriage, is crisp and pointed.
"The Count of Monte Cristo" (1844) by Alexandre Dumas: If you didn't know this was a classic, you might mistake it for a fast-moving adventure tale, a sort of "Bourne Ultimatum" played out in carriages and caves instead of jets and Internet cafes. The story is even more compelling the second time around. When you know what's coming, you can sink into the pleasure of its deliciously overwrought scenes.
"Fahrenheit 451" (1953) by Ray Bradbury: No matter how many times you read a Bradbury novel, it's always a gas. He's one of the few writers who can start with a big idea and turn it into a crackerjack yarn. So many authors, when they take on a profound concept, become dismal and didactic. Not Bradbury. This novel about a world in which firefighters burn books is written with passion and luminous beauty, and its anti-censorship message is — sadly — still fresh.
"The Great Gatsby" (1925) by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Great books never belong to just one genre. Fitzgerald's slender, intense novel about the mysterious title character with the fancy shirts, and his nosy neighbor Nick Carraway, is literary fiction, to be sure, but a second reading reveals all of the other things it is: upside-down fairy tale, morality play and — most important — crime fiction.
"Mrs. Dalloway" (1925) by Virginia Woolf: Woolf's work is actually much more accessible than advertised. She is commonly classified as a "difficult" author, hence most people approach her novels ready to be hideously bored. But if you relax into the fluid language, you'll enjoy yourself. The second time around, this tale of a single day in the life of a wealthy woman in post-World War I London is even more poignant, and often amusing. Woolf's prose moves in and out of the minds of her characters like a light wind going from tree to tree.
"Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood" (1804) by William Wordsworth: I first tracked down this poem in high school after watching "Splendor in the Grass" (1961) — a movie featuring a doomed love affair between an impossibly young and handsome Warren Beatty and the equally radiant Natalie Wood — on late-night TV. The movie's title comes from a line in Wordsworth's poem. Yet upon rereading it, the poem doesn't leave you in a sour mood at romances that fizzle and die. It is a hopeful poem about the consolations of growing older and wiser, about finding happiness "in the faith that looks through death,/In years that bring the philosophic mind."
F. Scott Fitzgerald, from left, Virginia Woolf and Ernest Hemingway are well worth spending time with in 2012.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times