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Paeans to my Favorite Books - III: Replay

Replay - Ken Grimwood

There are books I like and there are books I love. And then there are a few books which are my absolute favorites, ones that I can return to time and again and not only them enjoy every bit as much as I did when I first read them but appreciate them on new and different levels.


This is one such book. I first read it over twelve years ago, at a time when I was still in my post-graduate school phase of picking up novels that I had seen mentioned but hadn't had the opportunity to get to sooner. In this instance it helped that I had taken so long to read it, as it really is a novel that is best appreciated after someone has taken more than a few turns around the sun. I didn't fully appreciate this, however, until a few years later, when I came across a copy in a library book sale and decided to add it to my collection. This gave me the opportunity to return to it periodically as I get older.

The premise is a remarkably simple one: Jeff Winston, a middle-aged radio journalist, dies in 1988 and wakes up in 1963 back in his 18-year-old body. Quickly coming to terms with his situation, he relives his life with the awareness of what is to come, only to die again in 1988 and return back to his youth and repeat the cycle again. And again. And again.

This may sound repetitive, but it's not. Instead Ken Grimwood provides his readers with an elegant meditation on the meaningfulness of life. He keeps things fresh by having his character undertake different paths as he attempts to come to terms with what is happening to him, with each one offering new perspectives, new joys, and new pains. His character's experiences are at once both fantastic and entirely relatable, as Jeff comes across as an utterly human being capable of making mistakes and succumbing to weaknesses no matter how often he relives his life. Yet from the experience he eventually gains a new appreciation for his life and what it can still have to offer him. It's one I can appreciate on a variety of different levels, but perhaps most profoundly as the whole thing embodies the journey I retake every time I pick up this novel again and gain new insights from its familiar pathways.